Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 12

The Fortnight in Review

RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TURNS MURDEROUS The finaltwo weeks of the Russian election campaign brought terror to thestreets of Moscow, with an assassination attempt against the leadingcandidate for deputy mayor of the city and a bomb explosion inthe Moscow metro on July 11 that killed four people and injuredtwelve. An assassination attempt was also made against the mayorof a town just outside the capital. In the heightened pre-electionatmosphere, each side pointed the finger of blame at the other,with incumbent Boris Yeltsin alleging that the Communists wereplotting a civil war and his chief rival, Communist party leaderGennady Zyuganov, accusing the president of seeking a pretextto cancel the elections.

A TWO-HORSE RACE The last public opinion polls, publishedthree days before the election date, gave Boris Yeltsin a clearlead over his closest rival, Gennady Zyuganov. Though none ofthe poll predictions gave Yeltsin enough support to win outrightin the first round, Zyuganov could be forgiven for wondering howit was that he, the front-runner at the beginning of the campaign,had lost the lead. The answer appeared to be the aggressive campaignwaged by Yeltsin team, which combined an electoral spending spreewith warnings of the dire consequences of electing a communistgovernment. Zyuganov, by contrast, fought a lackluster campaign."Was that very boring, boys?" a BBC correspondent heardZyuganov ask his aides after delivering a campaign speech in aprovincial town. Yeltsin also had the mass media in his pocket.State-run television was dominated by enthusiastic reports ofYeltsin’s progress, but reported Zyuganov’s campaign in sarcastictones and virtually ignored the campaigns of other candidates.The press carried lurid reports of "red brigades" beingmustered in the provinces and of secret Communist plans to abandonthe ballot-box for the bullet. Seizing the opportunity of the34th anniversary of a June 1962 massacre by Soviet troops of strikingworkers in the southern Russian city of Novocherkassk, Yeltsinall but held Zyuganov personally responsible for the events. ButYeltsin failed to mention that he himself had been a Party memberat the time whereas Zyuganov did not join it until five yearslater. Forced onto the defensive, Zyuganov deplored the "anti-Communisthysteria" whipped up by his opponent and vowed to go to courtover some of the more lurid press reports. The Yeltsin team wasnot fazed. One of the president’s top aides, Georgy Satarov, saidthe Kremlin was collecting information concerning an alleged Communistplot to provoke riots and stage a coup, so that the Communistparty could be outlawed once and for all.

LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS The accusationsand counter-accusations were evidence that a dangerous situationhad developed in which both sides were convinced that the otherwas going to cheat in the elections. It is a hallmark of democraticsystems that power is transferred peacefully for one leader toanother because both sides accept the legitimacy of the electoralprocess and acknowledge that, even if they are defeated in oneballot, they will have another opportunity to convince the electoratein the next. Russia’s June 16 presidential election was the firstin which this principle would be tested in Russia but, to judgefrom the behavior of the leading candidates, confidence that democraticnorms would be observed was almost entirely lacking.

CHECHNYA: RUSSIAN POLICY SHAPED BY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONA fortnight of breathless developments in Chechnya began May 27with a preliminary ceasefire document initialed in the Kremlinby Russian and Chechen resistance leaders, and culminated in thesigning of more detailed armistice protocols in Nazran June 10.The OSCE’s Chechnya mission chief Tim Guldimann played a key rolein facilitating these meetings and the adoption of the documents.At Russian insistence, the talks dealt only with military issues,excluding political ones. But Moscow satisfied the Chechen delegation’sdemand that the collaborationist Grozny authorities could participatein the talks only as part of the Russian delegation. The May 27Kremlin document was signed by Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin,Chechen acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, and other top representativesof both sides and initialed by President Boris Yeltsin. It providedfor a ceasefire effective as of June 1, mutual renunciation ofthe use of force, an all-for-all exchange of forcibly held persons(a term encompassing prisoners of war, those missing in action,hostages, and filtration camp detainees), and for prompt follow-uptalks to work out implementation mechanisms and joint controlbodies. The follow-up talks were held a week later in Nazran,capital of Ingushetia, by delegations under Russian nationalitiesminister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and Chechen chief of staff AslanMaskhadov. They produced a protocol June 10, spelling out theceasefire terms and ruling out the use of artillery, air-bombingand "special operations" — Russia’s main war-wagingmethods in Chechnya. The Russian side agreed to lift the militaryblockade of Chechen towns and villages by July 7 and to withdrawby August 30 its forces "temporarily stationed" in Chechnya,in parallel with Chechnya’s "demilitarization" — aterm denoting disarmament of Chechen resistance forces. A jointworking group is to establish the schedule of implementation ofthese provisions and monitor compliance. A separate agreementon exchanging all forcibly held persons establishes a joint workinggroup to examine the lists of captives, trace them–includingthose held in Russian detention centers — and effect their release.As a last-minute addition, the sides agreed to postpone the electionsto a Chechen legislature in Grozny, originally scheduled to beheld June 16. The Chechens argued that conditions for free andfair elections are currently absent–a view supported by the OSCEmission. The sides agreed to hold internationally supervised electionsin Chechnya after the Russian troops had withdrawn. The implementationof these measures and a political settlement of the Chechnya conflictseem far from certain at this point. Observers generally agreethat President Yeltsin needed at least a semblance of tranquillityand of progress toward a political solution in Chechnya to enhancehis reelection prospects. Yeltsin himself stated more than oncethat his electoral chances on June 16–and in the second roundlikely be held on July 7–partly depend on ending the Chechnyawar. But the pressure on the Russian president to demonstrateprogress toward a political solution in Chechnya will declineafter the election, regardless whether Yeltsin Zyuganov wins.But even with the election fast approaching and pressure on theKremlin to show moderation high, steps by Yeltsin and the Russiangovernment and military undermined confidence in the value oftheir commitments. Yeltsin paid a lightning visit — his first– to Chechnya on May 28. During his visit, the president treatedthe Grozny authorities as legitimate, made no mention of the destructionof towns and villages and killing of civilians by Russian forces,and demonstrated a lack of comprehension of the most painful politicaland ethnic problems in Russian-Chechen relations. The Russiangovernment then unilaterally published a draft political statusof Chechnya, not shown to the Chechen delegation at the negotiationsand destined to be signed by the federal center with its own appointeesin Grozny. Adding to these disquieting signs, the Chechen delegationand OSCE staff returning from the Nazran talks under were attackedJune 11 in the vicinity of Russian checkpoints by remote-controlledmines. Russian military commanders continued to describe the Chechenresistance as criminals and outlaws. Top Russian officials, includingChernomyrdin and Mikhailov, called for the election of a puppetlegislature in Grozny on June 16 despite the June 10 agreementto postpone it, while other Russian officials argued for adheringto that part of the agreement. The formula on withdrawing theRussian troops "temporarily stationed" in Chechnya openeda loophole for the stay of forces, which Moscow defines as "permanentlystationed" there. The Russian Defense Ministry announcedthat it was drawing up plans for the withdrawal of part of itsforces, while reaffirming the known plan to "permanentlystation" at least two brigades in Chechnya. The plan is almostcertainly unacceptable to the Chechen resistance and seems likelyto lead to new hostilities if it is implemented. These unilateralactions and circumvention of signed commitments confirmed a widelyheld view that Moscow had entered into the talks and signed theagreements primarily to procure tranquillity in Chechnya duringthe presidential election campaign. After the election, all thebets will be off. Statements by some Russian officials appeareddesigned to lay the groundwork for blaming the Chechen side forwrecking the talks and sparking renewed hostilities.

TAJIKISTAN: ANOTHER WAR INTENSIFIES Another war on theMoslem periphery of what is left of the Russian empire — thatin Tajikistan — intensified during the past fortnight. Indeed,Russian military operations in Tajikistan seemed to be takingon some of the characteristics already seen in Chechnya. Oppositionleaders alerted UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali thatRussian aviators had stepped up the bombing of opposition-controlledvillages in Tavildara district; Russian sources also reportedthe air attacks. The bombing culminated June 11 when the Tavildaratown was, according to the opposition leaders, "virtuallyrazed to the ground" by Russian aviation. The assault aircraftand helicopter gunships were assisting government troops, drawnlargely from western clans, in an offensive aimed at capturingareas in Tajikistan’s narrow central corridor, which commandsaccess to opposition strongholds in the east. The outmanned andoutgunned opposition switched to guerrilla tactics against thegovernment troops equipped with Russian-supplied armor and artillery.The operations seemed coordinated with Moscow, and not only throughsenior Russian officers in the Tajik military command. The firstdeputy director of the Russian Federal Security Service, the deputycommander in chief of the border troops, and the deputy directorof the Foreign Intelligence Service were among Russian generalswho arrived in Dushanbe during this two-week period. Openly acknowledgedby Dushanbe officials, the offensive flew in the face of an understanding,reached at the UN mission’s insistence, to extend the ceasefirewhich expired May 26 by a further three months. Dushanbe alsosucceeded in imposing a postponement of UN-mediated inter-Tajiktalks, a round of which had been scheduled to resume in mid-June.Its action in postponing the talks appeared designed to enablegovernment forces to pursue their operations and seize groundbefore the talks resumed. The UN failed to promote a politicalsettlement of the conflict and its newly appointed special envoyfor Tajikistan, German diplomat Gerd Merrem, was unable to obtainTajik president Imomali Rahmonov’s consent to reconvening theUN-mediated talks on schedule. Moreover, Dushanbe denied the smallUN Observer Mission in Tajikistan (UNMOT) access to the combatzone. Chiding UNMOT for its requests to visit the area, the governmentjustified its objections with the argument that it could not guaranteethe observers’ safety. UN headquarters in New York did not seemto act on the opposition’s messages and may even have emboldenedthe government to take the offensive. During the last days ofMay, Boutros-Ghali honored Rahmonov with a personal meeting inMoscow, during which the UN leader also praised Russian-led peacekeepingoperations in the CIS. At almost the same time, the UN SecurityCouncil’s Chinese chairman issued a statement, inspired by Russiaand almost unresisted by the Western powers, scolding the Tajikopposition for ceasefire violations and appearing to license governmentcountermeasures. Dushanbe cited that statement as conferring legitimacyon its own offensive.

WRANGLING OVER NATO ENLARGEMENT Russia’s relations withthe West were dominated during the past fortnight by an on-goingrhetorical joust over Moscow’s attitude toward NATO enlargement.A break-through of sorts seemed to be reached during talks betweenRussian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and his Western counterpartsduring a landmark meeting of NATO foreign ministers in BerlinJune 4. NATO leaders were originally reported to have been heartenedby a softening in Moscow’s position on enlargement after Primakovallegedly told them that Moscow could live with enlargement solong as no troops or weaponry were deployed on the territoriesof new NATO member-states. While some NATO participants suggestedthat Primakov’s formulation was no more than a more conciliatoryrepackaging of Moscow’s previous position on enlargement, allparticipants seemed to agree that the talks had, at the least,been especially cordial. But a Russian foreign ministry spokesmansaid June 6 that it was in fact NATO that had acquiesced in Berlinto Russia’s opposition to enlargement. According to the spokesman,NATO foreign ministers had suggested to Primakov both that enlargementwas no longer inevitable and that questions related to Europeansecurity would not be decided without consulting Moscow. All ofthis, the Russian spokesman argued, proved that President Yeltsin’spolicy of opposition to enlargement had paid dividends for Russia.But strong statements reaffirming NATO’s determination to takein new members in the days that followed the Berlin meeting suggestedthat the Russian foreign ministry may in fact have been puttingthe best face on a diplomatic setback only two weeks before Russia’spresidential election. Indeed, U.S. Defense Secretary WilliamPerry said June 5 that Moscow should stop "thinking in ColdWar terms" and accept enlargement. That remark, moreover,came a day after U.S. presidential candidate Bob Dole and congressionalRepublicans took steps aimed at accelerating NATO’s expansion.

DEFENDING RUSSIA AND RUSSIANS The security policy sectionsof Yeltsin’s reelection platform, published May 31, proclaimedthat Moscow would continue to pursue a more assertive foreignpolicy consonant with its role as a "leading power withoutwhose participation no key [international] problem can be solved."The document did appear, however, to prioritize relations withthe "near abroad," stating that Russia would pursueintegration within the CIS while actively defending the rightsand interests of Russians abroad. It also called for the buildingof equal relations with the West and East, the creation of a Europeansecurity system free of blocs, and favorable access for Russiangoods to markets abroad. Yeltsin made START-2 ratification dependentupon U.S. adherence to the 1971 ABM Treaty. On the issue of militaryreform, the Russian president intimated that the armed forceswould be reduced further in order to make them "more compactand more battle-worthy," and that the army would focus ondeveloping its means of information warfare and on the deploymentof high precision weaponry. Yeltsin suggested that military spendingwould rise, but that the increases would go to defense industrialresearch and development and weapons modernization rather thanto salaries and benefits for the troops.

A POLITICIZED MILITARY Questions of the army’s politicizationremained an important theme in Russia’s presidential election.Russian TV reported June 2 that the Communist party Central Committeehad created a military committee, headed by hard-line Soviet eramilitary leaders, that was actively agitating within the armyfor Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov. But the greatestbrouhaha surrounded a June 3 statement by Defense Minister PavelGrachev that a group of Pacific Fleet sailors, casting their ballotsfor president early, had voted "unanimously" for BorisYeltsin. Russia’s Central Election Committee dismissed Grachev’sremarks as nonsense. It then criticized the military leadershipfor an appeal, issued May 30 by the command of Russia’s AirborneForces, that urged soldiers to vote for Yeltsin. The two incidentshighlighted a pattern of blatant politicking by military leaderson behalf of Yeltsin, in clear violation of Russian defense legislationand the principle of the army’s political neutrality.