Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 16

Commemoration of August 1991 coup likely to divide Russian politicians, people

Three events will mark the week ahead: commemoration of the fourthanniversary of the August 1991 coup that led to the end of theSoviet Union, a universal search for allies and votes as the Dumaelection campaign kicks off in earnest, and a possible announcementof a final accord on the fate of the Black Sea fleet.


August 19 will be the fourth anniversary of the coup that ultimatelytoppled Mikhail Gorbachev and brought down the Soviet Union. Whileofficial commemorations are likely to be low-key, this anniversarywill spark a range of commentary and oratory on the events, theirconsequences, and who is to blame for them or for what came afterward.Many Russian politicians will use the occasion to stake out theirclaims to be either men of the future or restorers of past greatness.One possible development would be the final removal of Lenin’sbody from the mausoleum. Yeltsin has been hesitant on this issuein the past, but last week’s statement by Russian Orthodox PatriarchAleksii II urging that Lenin be buried may lead the Russian presidentto make this major symbolic break with the past.


Now that Yeltsin has approved the law on electoral districts,all the parties will be seeking to name their candidates in thesingle-member districts. More important, Ivan Rybkin’s left-centerbloc will continue to try to find support from regional Agrariangroups, even though Agrarian leaders in Moscow remain opposedto any alliance. Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin’s "Russia isOur Home" bloc will also be looking for more support beyondofficials with a vested interest in the party of power. But nogroup looks able to break through public apathy about the votingjust now. That could open the way to a demagogue like VladimirZhirinovsky who may be able to tap into popular anger when moremoderate politicians cannot.


And a longer shot for next week may be the announcement of afinal accord on the division of the Black Sea fleet and its basesbetween the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Officials in bothcapitals hinted that such an agreement may be near. Russia willlikely get much of what it wants on the question of basing, butmay have to give way on its demand for complete control of severalsites. If this does in fact happen, politicians in each countrycan be expected to criticize the accord as giving away too muchto the other. As a result, even if an accord is announced it maynever be implemented; and the Black Sea fleet will continue torust away.


Other developments to watch include:

–Further maneuvering on Yugoslavia. Having worked with the Britishin the past, Russian diplomats will be turning ever more of theirattention to the Americans to try to forestall any Western interventionagainst Serbia. That could prompt the French and Germans to takea still more independent line, something Moscow might not be happywith immediately with regard to Yugoslavia, but could see as agood thing in the long term because such actions would weakenNATO still further.

–Rising social tensions in the Russian Federation. Crop failures,more violence, and a sense that things are out of control arelikely to be exploited by both regional and central politiciansseeking to press their agendas. While Russians have been increasinglyapathetic, such political attention to their problems could sparkmore strikes, and even violence, in the coal fields and perhapselsewhere. The violence last week in Sverdlovsk against the electionheadquarters of one candidate may be a harbinger of things tocome.

–A Yeltsin decree on combating terrorism. Russian media reportslast week suggested that a new decree is in the works, one thatmay concentrate even more control of the security services inthe hands of the president. While the decree is unlikely to bepublished in full, the Russian press has indicated, its provisionswill almost certainly leak out, particularly if there are somepersonnel shifts along with it.

–The spread of the Kalmyk option. More regional leaders seemready to follow the lead of Kalmyk President Ilyuzhimov and havetheir terms extended by referendum or an early vote. Should thathappen in enough regions, Yeltsin might take the cue and try todo the same thing for himself. Any suggestion that such a movewas in the offing, however, could trigger a new political crisisin Moscow.

–Continued constitutional debates in Kazakhstan and Georgia.As these two countries struggle to approve or write constitutionsfor their new states, tensions in both are likely to rise. Evermore groups–ethnic Kazakh as well as ethnic Russian–have comeout against Kazakh President Nazarbayev’s draft, and the Georgianparliament will continue to fight over the provisions that wouldgive Georgian leader Shevardnadze more power.