Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 195

With Russia’s parliamentary and presidential elections looming, the number of conspiracy theories related to the struggle for power in Moscow and the Kremlin are proliferating, and a number of them see the Chechen conflict as a major element in that struggle. It has been suggested, for example, that the Family–as many in the Russian media call President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle–may be pushing for Russian forces to storm the Chechen capital, in hopes that it will lead to a military fiasco similar to the one which occurred in late 1994. The newspaper Segodnya, which is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media Most empire and thus hostile to Kremlin insiders like Boris Berezovsky, today speculated in its lead story that storming Djohar was necessary for a few generals and politicians to gain leverage for domestic surprise maneuvers, from replacing Putin to canceling the June 2000 elections. Taking the capital of the rebellious republic, it maintained, would result in a “catastrophic” number of Russian army casualties and would thus demoralize a Russian society unprepared for them. Kremlin strategists, it said, see this as a way of convincing the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, to ratify a state of emergency across Russia. This, according to Segodnya, is the only hope of survival for Yeltsin and his inner circle (Segodnya, October 21).

Kremlin administration Aleksandr Voloshin reportedly pushed for a frontal assault on the Chechen capital during a meeting yesterday with Yeltsin. Segodnya, it should be noted, earlier this year charged that Voloshin was behind raids by the tax police on the Seven Days publishing house, which is part of Gusinsky’s empire and which publishes Segodnya.

While Segodnya did not, curiously, explicitly say as much in today’s article, a failed attempt to storm the Chechen capital would obviously be big trouble for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom Yeltsin named as his heir apparent last August and whose poll numbers have been rising, putatively because of his tough line on Chechnya. According to journalist Yulia Latynina, Putin’s popularity rating, while definitely on the rise, is being “artificially inflated as a result of political intervention” by the Kremlin. NTV television and other media loyal to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov plan to send Putin’s poll numbers southward before the December parliamentary election, and to provide the pretext for his drop in popularity by giving heavy coverage to the inevitable array of disasters and flow of bodybags which the Chechen conflict will produce. Latynina cited a manager at a leading polling agency and an NTV employee, both anonymous, as sources for her report (Moscow Times, October 20).