Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 9

Growing social tensions threaten Russian stability

Three developments that are likely to occupy a dominant placein the coming week are the fallout from the resolution of thegovernment crisis, growing social tensions in Russia as unemploymentmounts and incomes fall, and possibly a breakthrough on the longsimmering Karabakh conflict even as Armenia approaches its controversialelections on July 5.

On July 1, the Duma will almost certainly fail to pass a secondmotion of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin effectively ending the political crisis of the lastten days but not preventing some serious fallout. Yeltsin’s willingnessto accept the resignations of some but not all the power ministersvirtually guarantees an end to the immediate crisis. But Chernomyrdin’sefforts o play a bigger role in the operation of the power ministriesand the parliament’s own all too obvious interest in keeping itsown perquisites rather than advancing a specific policy will continueto reverberate in the columns of newspapers, the television screens,and in the minds of ever more Russians. A poll last week showedthat only 3% of all Russians would vote for Yeltsin if presidentialelections were held today, but no one received much more support. Even the candidate who received the greatest approval rating–justretired Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed–received only 8%. Virtuallyall Russians are exiting from politics, a situation that doesnot contribute to stability but rather to one where the amountof force needed to change personnel quickly and dramatically atthe top declines rapidly.

One of the reasons that Russians are turning their backs on thepoliticians is the daily struggle many of them face just to earntheir daily bread. More than one-third of all Russians now livebelow the officially-defined poverty line, many are eating sopoorly that many more illnesses are becoming epidemics, and inone horrific report last week, some Russian parents are abandoningor even killing their children because the children representtoo great a burden on the family. Russian officials concede thatpoverty is increasing even as they insist that the economy isturning around. Worse, they indicate that the state lacks theresources to help. This is a breeding ground for a social explosion. While it may not happen anytime soon, next week is certain tosee more articles about the troubles of Russian society.

Also next week there may be some breakthroughs in the discussionson the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Armenians,President Clinton is prepared to invite the leaders of Armeniaand Azerbaijan to Washington now that the two sides have movedsomewhat closer together. Some additional moves may be in theoffing as Armenia’s president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, tries to generatelast minute support for the July 5 parliamentary elections andreferendum on a new constitution. Those elections have alreadysparked violence; more is likely in the next week.

Other developments likely next week include:

–a conference in the North Caucasus on how to reach peace inChechnya even as the Moscow-Chechen talks sputter on with sporadicviolence punctuating each days session. Little progress can bee expected even if as he has promised Russian Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin takes a personal role.

–the gradual cooling down of the ethnic tensions that eruptedin Crimea when Russian mafia figures killed two Crimean Tatars.Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma will be especially interestedin resolving the conflict especially now that he is likely toface the wrath of Western economic institutions because of hisplans to reinflate the Ukrainian economy rather than continueto seek to cut the inflation rate.

–the first political speeches by Aleksandr Lebed since his departurefrom the army, speeches which will be worth following becausethey will provide an indication of whether the general can succeedin politics without a uniform as well as he did when he stillhad his general’s stars on.

–a continued frenzy over pipeline routes in the Caucasus, CentralAsia, and Europe with a possible booklet in Russian oil and gasstocks. Iran is likely to expand on its agreements with Turkmenistanand possibly even move to help Azerbaijan in anticipation of apossible settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

–an ever-widening circle of problems arising from the Moscow-inducedfailure of the Baltija Bank. Latvians are likely to see morebank failures, and the Latvian government is certain to face newchallenges to its stewardship.