Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 9

Political crisis in Moscow comes to a scripted end

Three tightly interrelated developments dominated the week justpast: Chernomyrdin’s search for a way out of the conflict withthe Duma, Yeltsin’s wrestling with the power ministers whose dismissalmany in the parliament demand, and talks between the Russian andChechen delegations on how to bring peace to Chechnya.

The government crisis, which began last week when the Duma adopteda no confidence motion in the government of Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin in order to force Yeltsin to fire the power ministersresponsible for Chechnya and Budennovsk, came to what some Russianpapers suggested was a "show trial" conclusion. Chernomyrdinmade some promises to the Ararian Party that he would funnel moremoney to the farmers as the price for their vote, the Parliamentrealized that Yeltsin would dismiss it if they voted against Chernomyrdinagain, and a compromise emerged with the Parliament agreeing tovote on a second motion of no confidence July 1 rather than aChernomyrdin-requested confidence resolution. Because many deputieswill find it easier to abstain on the latter vote and allow itto die than they would to actually vote for the government whichcould hardly expect to put together a majority in the dividedDuma, this latest maneuvering in Moscow is coming to an unspectacularend, one that has only further undermined public confidence inboth the executive and the legislative branches of governmentby highlighting the pettiness and limitations of each.

The second major development of the week was Yeltsin’s effortsto cope with the Duma’s demands that he fire one or all of thepower ministers whom many blame for the Chechen war and the mishandlingof the Budennovsk hostage taking. Yeltsin talked tough, the ministerstraded charges with each other and with the government as a wholeand actually offered their resignations at one point, butthen on Thursday both sides appeared to have backed away fromany final step. Late Friday however, Yeltsin accepted the resignationof three of the power ministers–interior minister Victor Yerin,federal security service director Sergei Stepashin, and deputyPrime Minister Nikolae Yegorov as well as Stavropol governor YevgeniKuznetsov. Significantly, however, Yeltsin did not accept theresignation of the man at whom the Duma deputies had directedthe greatest anger: defense minister Pavel Grachev. Yeltsineven turned this uncertainty to his own advantage by calling forthe creation of a special anti-terrorist unit subordinate to himthat would control all special forces in the country and reducein the future his dependence on the power ministries.

And finally, peace talks continued in Grozny with the Russiansconceding that representatives of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayevcould participate in the upcoming elections and the Chechen sideagreeing to arrangements for disarming the Chechen units and holdingnew elections later this year. None of these agreements meanthat peace is near or assured. These accords do not take effectuntil a political settlement is reached on the status of Chechnya,something that will not be easy. Moreover, as sporadic fightingindicated, many are still prepared to use violence and to exploitdifferences in Moscow between Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin in orderto advance the Chechen cause. Throughout the North Caucasus, tensionsincreased as Russian Cossacks took a more prominent role as "guardians"of the Russian frontier. In Moscow and other cities, the authoritiesdeployed more troops–reportedly as many as 40,000 in Moscow alone–toenhance security. But instead of reassuring the population, mostof these moves simply underscored Moscow’s and everyone’s impotencein the face of terrorist actions.

Other developments last week that will also cast a long shadowinto the future included:

–The Council of Europe admitted Moldova to full membership evenas it released a report that Russia had consistently and deliberatelyviolated human rights norms in Chechnya. This conjunction willnot only infuriate Moscow but almost certainly guarantee boththat Russia will not be admitted to the Council this year andthat Moscow will press even harder to keep Ukraine from beingadmitted ahead of it.

–Moscow’s tragicomic hunt for Shamil Basayev, the Chechen commanderwho led the raid on Budennovsk, only underscored the bureaucraticconfusion and incompetence in Moscow and further eroded publicconfidence in all senior officeholders. At one point, Basayevwas giving an interview on Russian television from Chechnya whileRussian intelligence services were charging that he was in oneof more than a half dozen foreign countries! While Chernomyrdingot a political bounce from his decision to launch talks withthe Chechens as a way of solving the Budennovsk hostage crisis,even he was coming under ever harsher criticism throughout theweak for the implications of his concessions to the terrorists.

–In a reflection of the deteriorating condition inTajikistan,Russian commanders denounced the Tajik regime for failing to investigatethe murder of Russian officers and men and authorized their troopsto use their own discretion in opening fire on those they suspectedto be anti-government forces. Tajik officials fired back, denouncingthe Russians for claiming that Dushanbe had not launched any investigationsinto the murders and claiming that Russian peacekeepers routinelyviolated basic rules of security.

–Having just accepted the retirement of Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed,Yeltsin told Moldovan President Mircea Snegur that they must agreeto a permanent basing arrangement for the 14th Army that Lebedhad commanded in Moldova’s Transdniestr region. Moldovan officialsindicated that they would increase their search for Western supportto counter Moscow’s pressure.

–In an indication that relations between Moscow and Minsk maynot be all that Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko hopesfor, Moscow drastically reduced its supply of gas to Belarus. Lukashenko was forced to dip into the country’s reserves fornext winter. That step in turn sets the stage either for socialproblems in Belarus at the end of the year if Minsk does not tryto get Moscow to reverse itself or for even greater Russian demandson Minsk for concessions if Lukashenko asks for more help.

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