Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 13

Moscow launches diplomatic offensive on Bosnia and in pariah states

Three events to look for in the coming week include a partialagreement in Chechnya and the announcement of a decision by theRussian Constitutional Court on the legality of that conflict;increased pressure by the Russian military for more money fromthe government, thus setting the stage for intense backroom politickingbetween the military and the other major interest groups in thegovernment; and a continued Russian push to oppose any Westernresolve in Bosnia and to pick up new support for Moscow’s policiesamong internationally isolated states such as North Korea andIraq.


Many questions about Chechnya remain open: will the talks resumeon July 29 as planned? Will the two sides be able to agree toeven a military accord? And can either side enforce such an agreementon its followers–unhappy Russian soldiers in Moscow’s case, andin Grozny’s case Chechen field commanders who are upset with thefact that talks are taking place? More sporadic violence sparkedby both sides is likely in the coming week. And the Chechen waris likely to increase its impact on Russian politics, with thedoves around Chernomyrdin and the hawks around Yeltsin possiblymoving against one another to try to prevent the Chechens frombeing able to exploit the differences between them. That willbe even more difficult if the Constitutional Court returns, asexpected, a divided decision on Yeltsin’s intervention. Failingto reach an agreement among themselves, the Russian side willalmost certainly lose the initiative at the talks, and the Chechens–whoseleaders now believe that Moscow has made the first of what willbe many concessions–still say they count on winning at the conferencetable what they were not able to obtain on the battlefield.


Related to this, but also reflecting deeper structural problems,will be a new Russian army push for greater aid to itself. TheRussian military, according to its own commanders, is now in crisis.The soldiers and officers are not receiving their pay, personnelat nuclear missile installations are having to work double-timebecause of the downsizing of the Russian military, and soldiersfighting in Chechnya aren’t being fed well and their mothers increasinglyare coming to ask them to desert. There is little prospect thatMoscow can reverse this situation anytime soon, but Yeltsin’sdecision to give the agricultural sector a major infusion of cashwill certainly lead the generals to try to get equal treatment,especially given the rising influence of defense minister PavelGrachev. Consequently, this struggle over budgetary allocationscould quickly become a struggle over positions at the very highestlevels of the Russian state.


And finally, Russia will continue its diplomatic offensive. Yeltsinand the rest of his government will continue to insist that theWest not intervene militarily against the Serbs, confident thatRussian opposition will be enough to restrain a still-reluctantWest from doing anything against Russia’s traditional allies.But equally important, the Russian government will continue tryingto pick up influence among international pariah states such asIraq, Libya, and North Korea. Moscow has clearly concluded thatsuch states, already angry at the US and the international community,are the most likely allies Moscow can obtain at low cost for theimmediate future.


Other events to keep track of include:

–The end of the latest round of OSCE-sponsored Armenian-Azerbaijanitalks about Karabakh. Going into this week’s meetings, the Armenians,Azerbaijanis, and Russians seem agreed on at least one thing:that the position of the Karabakh authorities is the major stickingpoint for any progress. The communique will probably indicatewhether that agreement was something the parties could build on.

–The Russian-Ukrainian talks on the Black Sea Fleet. At theirmeeting in Moscow last week, the two premiers set up a workinggroup to try to answer some of questions which are still open.

–Constitutional debates in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan. In Azerbaijan, the critical issue is now what kind of parliamentthe country will have; in Georgia, it is the nature of federalrelations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and in Kazakhstan,it is the limits the new document puts on human rights and onthe status of the Russian language there.

–The Latvian banking crisis. Riga is searching for money topay back at least the small depositors of the failed Baltija Bank,and is likely to have to accept a variety of new internationalconditions to get such loans. Because of the upcoming parliamentaryelections there, any decision–either to agree or to cave–willquickly be bound up in electoral politics.

–The Tajik fighting. The coming week is when Russian commandershave said the Tajik opposition plans to launch a new wave of attackson the government and on Russian peacekeepers in the region.