Chechen accords are far from a general peace
Three events dominated the past week: a partial resolution ofthe Chechen war, new difficulties in Russian-Ukrainian talks onthe fate of the Black Sea Fleet, and intense Russian diplomaticactivity on Bosnia.
On July 30, Russian and Chechen negotiators signed an agreementto stop military actions. Although far from a final resolutionof the conflict–a political agreement remains to be worked out–theaccord did lessen the level of fighting throughout the week, allowedfor the exchange of some prisoners held by both sides, and ledsome Chechens to turn in their weapons. In a televised addressAugust 3, Yeltsin claimed even more for the accords. He suggestedthat because they call for a resolution of all future problemswithin the terms of the Russian constitution, the Chechen issuehas been basically solved. Yeltsin plans to send his own personalrepresentative, as well as parliamentary delegations and a teamfrom the OSCE, to supervise the disarming of the Chechen units. On the Chechen side, there was some confusion over whether PresidentDzhokhar Dudayev would approve the accords–he ultimately did–whenhe dismissed Usman Imayev who had been his chief negotiator. But Russian journalists in the region reported that the Chechensthemselves seemed anything but defeated, and that many local commanderssee this latest accord as giving them a breathing space beforethe conflict is renewed. One thing that did not change all weekis that there was no news about the fate of Fred Cuny, the Americanaid specialist who has been missing in the region since April9.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev appeared to worsen this week. When it became apparent that the Russian side had hardened itsposition on the future of the Black Sea Fleet and that no agreementwas in prospect, Ukrainian prime minister Evhen Marchuk did notcome to Moscow as scheduled August 2. Russian negotiators nowwant more territory in the Crimea than Yeltsin and Ukrainian presidentLeonid Kuchma had agreed to in Sochi. Moreover, Ukrainians ahvebeen deeply offended by the mistreatment of a Ukrainian admiralby Russian forces–he was not allowed entrance to a normally openfacility–and by a Russian admiral’s comments that the Black Seacannot be divided and must remain Russian. A new actor enteredthis fray on August 3: the Crimean legislature named a delegationto the talks. It is uncertain as of this writing whether eitherMoscow or Kiev will be willing to allow the Crimeans to participate,or what their participation might mean for the fortunes of eitherside.
But perhaps the most dramatic event of the week ,after the signingof the Chechen accords, was Moscow’s intense diplomatic activity–inthe first instance concerning the West’s possible use of forceagainst Serbs in Bosnia. Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin and foreign ministerAndrei Kozyrev all spoke out forcefully against any use of forcethat Moscow had not cleared in advance through the UN. Moreover,Moscow officials made it clear that they expected both the UNand the United States to use their good offices to keep the Croatiansfrom expanding their intervention in Bosnia. Meanwhile, Moscowexpanded its diplomatic and military contacts with a number ofcountries, including the international pariah states of Libya,Iraq, and Iran in a transparent attempt to pick up support onthe cheap for its international approach..
Other important developments last week included:
–Yeltsin continued his reorganization of the Russian securityservices, tightening his control over the largest intelligenceagencies in anticipation of possible difficulties during the upcomingelection campaign. Many Russian commentators saw the Russianpresident’s latest moves either as an effort to undermine theability of Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin to govern the country,or as the first step toward a presidential dictatorship. Regardlessof whether these conclusions are correct, Yeltsin’s latest maneuversprovide him with some additional support against the clearly risingpower of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.
–The Russian government approved a new austerity budget for1996 but has not yet released it to the Duma. The document, whichanticipates a deficit within IMF guidelines, is based on somehighly optimistic assumptions–including a monthly inflation ratenext year of 1.2%. While inflation has fallen in recent months,it is still locked at 5% and experts inside and outside the governmentdoubt that current levels can be maintained into the fall as demandsfrom the agricultural and consumer sector for more cash put pressureon the budget. Such demands will only be amplified by the ongoingelection campaign and the obvious desire of all parties to makepoints with the voters.
–Although the imposition of tariffs on food imports has notsent prices up as quickly as many feared, Moscow city officials,from Mayor Yury Luzhkov on down, complained about the impact ofany price rise on their constituents and sought to ease the foodproblem by seeking agreements with Belarusian and Russian regionalproducers. Ever more Russians slipped below the poverty line,and Russia now ranks 55th among the countries of the world interms of standard of living. Remarkably, figures released thispast week show that Russia had a higher inflation rate, both absolutelyand relative to income increases, than any other CIS country.
–The Moldovan government declared victory in its earlier conflictwith the Christian Turkic Gagauz minority. The Gagauz now havetheir own territorial autonomy with extensive control over theirown territory and the right to secede should Chisinau ever decideto unite with Romania. This week virtually all Gagauz militiaunits turned in their guns and ammunition. Meanwhile, in theTransdniester region, Russian forces found themselves locked ina conflict with the local ethnic Russian government over the destructionof ammunition stored there, but Moscow underscored its commitmentto its units there by promoting the new commander to the samerank which Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed had before he retired.
–Russia’s Astrakhan region sought Moscow’s sanction for thecreation of a special economic zone that would give it greatercontrol over its economy and access to any profits from the exploitationof oil under the Caspian Sea. Although these latest regionaldemands for greater power is less threatening to the integrityof the Russian Federation than was the "parade" of sovereigntiesin 1993, this latest "parade" is attracting ever moreparticipants, thus complicating Moscow’s administration of thecountry and particularly its ability to collect taxes and to ensurethat goods and services can move without obstruction across Russianterritory.