Chechnya stands between an unsteady peace and a new war
The possible signing of an agreement in Chechnya, the start ofthe parliamentary election, and a new upsurge in reporting aboutthe travails of the Russian people in this time of difficult changeare likely to dominate the week ahead.
The Russian negotiating team has said that it wants an agreementwith the Chechens quickly, quite possibly by July 23. This eagernessmay lead the Chechens to dig in their heels in the hope of a betterdeal, and thus the Russian statements may prove self-defeating.Provocations are likely from supporters on both sides–Russianssuggesting that the Chechens are about to launch a new terroristcampaign; Chechens telling the Russian media that the Chechenpeople are far from defeated. In this situation, a small miscalculationby either side could send the situation in and around Chechnyaout of control, whether or not the two sides sign an agreement. And that fact, which is recognized on both sides but not yetopenly acknowledged by all observers, means that any accord willbe far from the last word.
The election campaign will take off as parliament adjourns andas various political figures seek to tap into Russian frustrationsin order to power their campaigns. Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin willtry to assemble his bloc July 22-23, and other groups across thepolitical spectrum are likely to do the same. Because the candidateswill now lack even the discipline of legislative work, they arelikely to increase the intensity of their attacks on one another,and to raise the political temperature in Russia. Moreover, intheir struggle to overcome the apathy of the electorate, thosewho can promise the most in the most credible way are likely tobe the gainers. Chernomyrdin obviously believes that he can winby appearing to be a manager who does not promise too much; othersmay decide that promising more will win more support.
With the holiday recess of the Russian parliament and the freneticpace of its last days, and with the apparent winding down of talksin Grozny, the amount of hard news next week will likely decrease. It may well be replaced by softer stories which will only throwinto bold relief just how much Russians have been suffering. In the last month, Russia has been visited by locusts, plagues,floods, and drought, as well as more mundane human suffering suchas the news that life expectancy for men has declined to 57 years,and that infant mortality has risen dramatically. More detailson these tragic trajectories are likely to appear in the press,and to be magnified by the election campaign. And reports of thebeginning of what looks to be an extremely bad harvest in Russiawill further undermine public confidence in the Russian government’sability to take care of them, and will put pressure on Moscowto reverse itself and to buy grain abroad.
Other developments to watch next week include:
–The OSCE-sponsored talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan whichwill take place in Austria beginning July 25. The sides haveindicated both a desire for peace, and increasing reluctance tomake additional concessions in their public remarks prior to thismeeting.
–An expansion in the fighting in Tajikistan, with the numberof Russian and Tajik government dead likely to increase and tobe featured on Russian television. Tajik opposition groups reportedlyhave planned to launch a campaign against the Russians and Tajikgovernment forces at the end of the month. Moscow and Dushanbemay try to prevent this by seeking new talks with the opposition. But such an approach would require concessions which so far theTajik government has not been willing to make.
–The return to public activity of the Dashnak political partyin Armenia, and the consequent increase in attacks on the legitimacyof the new Armenian parliament and constitution which were approvedwithout the participation of the Dashnaks. (President Levon Ter-Petrosianhad banned the party for six months because of evidence that itwas linked to a terrorist group.)
–A decision of the Russian Constitutional Court on Chechnya,one almost certainly finding that Yeltsin acted in accordancewith the Russian Constitution when he ordered troops into Chechnyaon December 11, 1994. That decision will spark cries of outragefrom the democrats and will lead the power ministries to concludethat they have relatively free rein to act in the future.
–And the "Puppets" television case will continue,with the Russian government persisting in putting itself in theridiculous position of attacking a popular television show forpresenting Russian leaders in an unfavorable light. Even Russianswho support Yeltsin–an ever smaller number–are likely to losewhatever confidence they have in the regime because of this case.