Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 13

Moscow split on Chechnya

Three developments dominated the week just past: a breakdownin the Chechen peace talks, a Russian diplomatic offensive againstWestern efforts to halt Serbian aggression in Bosnia, and a lessthan successful meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian premierson the future of the Black Sea Fleet.


At mid-week, the talks between Moscow and the Chechens recessedwhen it became obvious that the two sides could not square thecircle between Moscow’s demand that Chechnya commit itself toremaining part of the Russian Federation, and Chechen insistencethat Moscow recognize Chechnya as an independent country. Asthe pressure rose, and given the fears of many in Moscow as towhat might happen if the talks broke down, Russian prime ministerViktor Chernomyrdin directed the Russian delegation to modifyits negotiating posture and offer the Chechens the opportunityto sign a military agreement now, and talk about a political onelater. But these concessions revealed a deep split inside Moscowitself, with officials around defense minister Pavel Grachev andPresident Boris Yeltsin taking a harder line and suggesting thatthe talks might end without any agreement. The Chechens clearlybelieve that Moscow needs the talks more than they do, but atthe end of the week several Russian commentators indicated thata break in the talks could spark not only renewed and very bloodyfighting in Chechnya–something the hardliners in Moscow may want–butalso terrorism inside Russia itself–something even the hardlinersmust fear. Meanwhile, all sides were waiting for the decisionof what is a reportedly deeply divided Constitutional Court onthe legality of Yeltsin’s decision to send troops to Chechnyain December 1994, and the international community is waiting fornews on the fate of Fred Cuny, the American aid specialist whohas been missing in the region since April 9.


Also at the end of the week, Moscow launched a full-court pressto prevent the Western allies from committing force in Bosniain order to block further Serbian aggression. Yeltsin came upwith yet another plan calling for direct talks between the five-nationcontact group and the Serbs, and reportedly intends to telephonePresident Clinton to push this idea and to indicate his unhappinesswith the US Senate vote calling for the lifting of the UN-mandatedarms embargo on Bosnia. Russian premier Viktor Chernomyrdin andforeign minister Andrei Kozyrev added their voices to this chorus. The Foreign Ministry said that Russian parliamentarians wouldalso use their own channels to try to influence the US Congresson this point. Meanwhile, a Federation Council discussion ofRussia’s national security doctrine showed an uglier side of Russianforeign policy: In the course of the debates, a senior aide toKozyrev suggested that Moscow was being marginalized in internationalaffairs, lacked obvious friends and supporters abroad, and thusneeded to launch a more independent and forceful foreign policyagainst the West.


The third event, the Moscow meeting between Russian prime ministerViktor Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian premier Evhen Marchuk, markedan important watershed in Russian-Ukrainian relations, not becauseof what was decided but because of what was put on hold. Despitethe Sochi accords, the two countries remain far apart on the futureof the Black Sea Fleet, and especially on its basing. The Russianside has been consistently optimistic that agreements are alreadyin hand, but the Ukrainian side indicated once again that thedevil is in the details, and that these are far from worked out. Moreover, Marchuk’s attitude at the meeting, respectful but alsotough-minded, reflected Kiev’s new and tougher foreign policyline. Ukrainian officials this week announced their willingnessto become involved in the Transdniester dispute between Moldovaand Moscow, and Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma visited Azerbaijanipresident Heydar Aliyev in Baku to coordinate their common andmore independent positions for upcoming meetings of the Russian-dominatedCIS. Equally important, Kiev continued to expand its diplomaticand economic contacts with Turkey and with Western Europe.


Among the other items in the news last week which have alreadyhad an important impact were:

–The Russian parliamentary election campaign began in earnestwith Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin’s bloc still unnamed and unorganized,with Chernomyrdin’s "Russia is Our Home" bloc clearlyin the drivers seat with local officials and those who will countthe votes, and with the Russian population, according to mostpolls, largely indifferent to both those running and to the veryidea of elections.

–Yeltsin completed his renewal of the leadership of Russia’ssecurity services when he named Mikhail Barsukov, his close assistantand head of the Main Administration for the Protection of Russia,as head of the Federal Security Service. While this may representa kind of demotion for Barsukov, his appointment will solidifyYeltsin’s control of the security services for what may be a difficultfall and winter.

–Russia led the CIS in inflation last month, one victory itsleaders probably are not pleased to claim. While the ruble exchangerate has stabilized, the real incomes of many Russians continueto fall as the result of inflation, and of the increasing tendencyof the government and private firms not to pay their workers becausethe employers have not been paid by their customers or the state.

–Moldova, which has been among the most stable of the CIS countries,headed into a political crisis with the majority party losingits dominance in the parliament, President Mircea Snegur attemptingto organize an alternative bloc, and Chisinau having real troublesboth in disarming the Gagauz minority and in dealing with thedemilitarization of the Transdniester region.

–And Russian bankers, who lost yet another of their number toa contract killer this week, met to demand that the Russian authoritiesprovide them with better protection. The bankers now employ 30,000private guards to keep them alive. The government’s failure todo more may have broader consequences: the bankers, many of whomare less than happy with the current regime’s economic policy,may be more reluctant to help finance the government’s deficitand that in turn could trigger new economic problems in the fall.