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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kostikov: A Bullhorn To Be Missed

A mere mouthpiece he was not. In fact, Vyacheslav Kostikov could barely be described as a spokesman. Willing as he was to make a statement on virtually any given occasion, he was just as likely to express his own view as that of President Boris Yeltsin.


While this could on occasion be misleading, it was rarely dull and it gave Kostikov a position of remarkable influence. As Yeltsin's chief spokesman, he could speak out on any subject he wished and be sure that he would be heard. Thus he was able to enter into a lively debate with the parliamentary opposition before last October's White House clashes, speculate on the survival of the Gaidar government, or, moving to international affairs, blast the United States for a Cold War mentality or speak out against the Partnership for Peace.


His outspokenness was on occasion useful for Yeltsin. The fact that he was known to hold an independent viewpoint meant that his provocative utterances could be used to test the water and to express views that Yeltsin likely shared but could not publicly express. Other times, Kostikov was just a loose cannon.


But he brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the stuffy corridors of the Kremlin, which have for centuries been shrouded in secrecy. For someone who launched his post-Politburo political career on populist appeal, Yeltsin has been strangely aloof from the press. Kostikov's appointment in May 1992 cannot be said to have imbued the Kremlin with accessibility, but he did help make the president's team a little less remote.


It is not yet entirely clear how Kostikov fell from grace. In September, he made it clear that his support from Yeltsin was conditional, depending on the president's continued dedication to democracy. But by then, his days were already numbered.


He was known to disapprove of the more boisterous side of Yeltsin's nature and to have taken a dim view of the president's attempts at conducting a spirited rendition of Kalinka during his visit to Berlin in August. It would be hard to imagine Kostikov downing the vodka with the boys, during the drinking sessions that Yeltsin has been said to enjoy. Unlike many others on the team, he did not see a need to take up tennis to satisfy his master.


The fact that Kostikov is to stay on until an appropriate successor is found is a positive sign, an indication that despite their differences, Yeltsin appreciated his value and is looking for someone with similar qualities, rather than a gray bureaucrat who considers reporters little better than spies. Whoever Kostikov's replacement should turn out to be, the spirit of openness he practiced -- if not his scrappy aggression -- should be continued.