Fighting in Tajikistan is set to explode
August has not always been a quiet month in Moscow, but thisnext week may be quieter than many others. Nonetheless, the startof the parliamentary election campaign, continuing problems inChechnya, and a likely upsurge in the fighting in Tajikistan arelikely to dominate the news.
THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Although the Central Election Commission suggested this weekthat the Russian parliamentary election should not begin yet,all the parties and politicians are hard at work campaiging. Noone has emerged from the pack, and in the coming week no one islikely to even as Duma speakekr Ivan Rybkin tries to fit togetherthe second "party of power" whose constituent congressis to take place later in August. Alliances will continue toform and unform in the next week, and one of the bases for dealsmay be support for a special Duma session to consider adoptingan election law. That session is opposed by Yeltsin and by Rybkin,but public opinion may force them to back down. Also in the comingweek, Yeltsin will veto the bill on the selection of the FederationCouncil. Yeltsin argues that the Constitution requires the upperhouse to be appointed, rather than elected, and thus does notapprove the electoral provisions of the parliament’s bill.
Moscow’s problems with Chechnya and the Chechens are far fromover. Not only do many on both sides of the conflict want to seeit renewed, thus making new provocations a virtual certainty,but the growing anti-Chechen mood in Russia itself, and especiallyin its southern regions where Chechens are being forcibly expelledfrom their homes, could also provoke a backlash among these Chechensor their co-ethnics in Chechnya itself. The talks will continuein Grozny, but little or no progress should be expected duringthe coming week. Instead, both sides will profess an interestin peace while continuing to score points off the other to maintaintheir political bases at home.
While it is far from certain, the fighting in Tajikistan appearsset to explode during the coming week. Russian military commandersreport that opposition groups are massing, both in the country’smountainous Badakhshan region and in neighboring Afghanistan. A major push would lead to large losses of lives on both sides,but those on the Russian side would be featured on Russian television,and thus have an impact on the election campaign. Demands foran end to the fighting are likely to be heard but not yet accepted. Instead, Moscow is likely to reinforce its border troops thereand seek additional funding from the neighboring Central Asianstates for this enterprise. They are unlikely to be willing toprovide it.
Other developments to watch for include:
–A shift in Moscow’s approach to ethnic Russians abroad. Afterseeking and failing to achieve agreements with all but one ofthe former Soviet republics on dual citizenship for ethnic Russians,Moscow seems set to enroll as many of the 25.4 million ethnicRussians living outside the Russian Federation as Russian citizens,something it had been loathe to do while pursuing its earlierstrategy. Only 200,000 of these ethnic Russians are now citizensof the Russian Federation. That number is likely to rise overthe next several months.
–The banking crisis in Latvia. While no more banks are likelyto fail, the impact of the failure of the Baltija Bank has beenmagnified by the election campaign that is beginning there. Oppositionleaders are charging that the government protected its own membersfrom any losses; and while this has been denied, such chargesraise the political temperature and the stakes of any actionsin the banking sector. Moreover, there are mounting problemswith banks elsewhere throughout the region.
–Tightening Russian government control of the media. Underthe guise of saving money and providing all candidates with equalaccess to the electronic media, the Russian government appearsset to dramatically expand its control over Russian television. Such a move will spark protests in the print media, but it willguarantee that the government and the government party of PremierViktor Chernomyrdin will be able to structure the debate in theelections.
–A move to give the Russian army and security services moremoney. In the face of rising complaints about insufficient supportfor the security services and the army, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdinappear ready to try to find new sources of money for the men withthe guns. The budget will give them something; off-budget sourcesof one kind or another are likely to be identified in the comingweeks for still more.
–Political turmoil in the Transcaucasian capitals. Constitutional,legal, and political struggles are dominating the political lifeof all three countries in the region. As a result, a dramaticpolitical stroke could occur in any of them as tempers and thetemperature rise.