Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 11

The Fortnight in Review

The signing of a ceasefire agreement on May 27 by Russian andChechen leaders shifted Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s campaigninto high gear and capped a two-week period during which Yeltsin’sposition in presidential polls continued to strengthen. The cease-fire,which received a warm if wary welcome in the West, was followedwith a declaration of victory by Yeltsin in a brief but high-profilevisit to Chechnya May 28. Whether the hastily arranged peace settlementwill hold remains very much an open question. But, as with somany of Yeltsin’s actions and promises in recent weeks, the accentwas on short-term solutions to those problems seen as most seriouslyimpeding his reelection bid.

Presidential Politics: Yeltsin Continues to Top the Polls

With Russia’s presidential elections only three weeks away, PresidentBoris Yeltsin maintained his lead in the polls over his chiefopponent, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist and nationalistalliance. Only the Institute of Sociology of Parliamentarianism,directed by Nugzar Betaneli, maintained that Yeltsin was headingfor defeat. Zyuganov’s supporters insisted that the polls underestimatedthe rural vote and therefore the popularity of their candidate.And some observers warned that the failure of St. Petersburg mayorAnatoly Sobchak to win reelection in the first round of the gubernatorialelection in Russia’s second city on May 19 might portend an anti-incumbentvote not only in St. Petersburg but in the country as a whole.Yeltsin, however, seemed poised for a further surge in the ratingsfollowing the May 27 ceasefire agreement with the Chechen leadership.

As Yeltsin negotiated a temporary halt to the Chechen fighting,increasing numbers of those who had earlier refused the presidenttheir approval announced that they would support him in the contestto ward off a Communist restoration. Presidential candidate GrigoryYavlinsky was one of the few who still refused to declare hissupport. May 25 saw the expiry of the deadline by which Yavlinskyhad said Yeltsin must dismiss his prime minister if he wantedto negotiate an electoral deal. On that day, Yavlinsky publiclydeclared that he would neither withdraw from the presidentialcampaign nor accept a post in a future Yeltsin government. Yavlinskydefended himself against claims that he had damaged his electoralchances. In reality, Yavlinsky’s image of moral purity had beentarnished by his apparent willingness to bargain with Yeltsinover a government post; as a result, a number of members of theliberal intelligentsia declared that they were switching theirsupport to Mikhail Gorbachev, who had never compromised with Yeltsin.

Campaigning on Military Reform

Yeltsin’s issuance May 16 of a decree ordering an end to militaryconscription by the year 2000 turned radical military reform unexpectedlyinto a major campaign issue. The decree, said to be part of apackage of presidential edicts that will shift Russia over thenext four years to an all-volunteer army, was undoubtedly welcomedby many young people and other Russians long scandalized by thebrutality and official callousness of barracks life. But Yeltsin’sCommunist opposition in the Duma, chagrined at being out-maneuveredon a popular issue, immediately denounced the decree as a "populistdocument that violates the constitution and Russian laws."A deputy chairman of the Duma’s defense committee warned thatthe decree would be thoroughly debated by Duma committees andthat its validity might be challenged in the Constitutional Court.A number of Russian commentators echoed the Communists in characterizingYeltsin’s decree as an election-year ploy and yet another emptypromise of military reform. They pointed to the high costs ofprofessionalization and to the short timetable envisioned forsuch a fundamental transformation of the Russian army.

The decree seemed also to politicize further Russia’s militaryhigh command. The top brass had long made clear its reservationsabout moving from the traditional conscription system to one ofincreased professionalization, and in fact was retreating froman earlier effort to raise significantly its number of "contract"soldiers. Russian media reports suggested that both the DefenseMinistry and the General Staff were stunned by Yeltsin’s May 16announcement. Although top military leaders–who have announcedpublicly their support for Yeltsin’s reelection bid–did lineup behind the president, the circumstances of Yeltsin’s announcementserved to fuel speculation that defense minister Pavel Grachevwould soon be dumped in favor of former deputy defense ministerBoris Gromov. The Duma deputy and former commander of the Soviet40th army in Afghanistan has emerged in recent weeks as a confidanteof Yeltsin’s, and he appeared to play a role in the president’sMay 16 announcement.

Wooing the Military-Industrial Complex

Yeltsin’s intense pre-election courtship of both the uniformedand the civilian sides of Russia’s military industrial complex–aconstituency of millions–reached its apex May 29 when he mademajor addresses in Moscow to the leaderships of both groups. Yeltsintold a convention of some 500 defense enterprise leaders thatRussia’s status as a great power depended in large part upon theirefforts, and he urged them to operate more aggressively in foreignmarkets and to transform the defense industrial sector into alocomotive that would power Russia’s broader economic rebirth.Yeltsin also admitted that the government had earlier committederrors in its military industrial policies, but he asserted thatdefense enterprises were now receiving more state support thanthey had "in all the years of reform." (See Prism,May 17)

In a separate speech the same day Yeltsin also pleased top militaryleaders with the assertion that the West remains a military threatto Russia and that NATO enlargement is part of a broader pushby the West to consolidate its position of world leadership. Followingup earlier words of praise for the military’s performance in Chechnya,Yeltsin professed on May 29 to be "satisfied on the whole"with the the military leadership. But the president also voicedpopular criticism of the high command for failing to reduce thetotal number of men in uniform in Russia and charged that a lackof coordination among the various ministries and agencies commandingtroops had resulted in a broader disintegration of combat capabilities.Yeltsin called for a sharp reduction in the number of the army’sundermanned "paper" divisions and asked why "poorly-preparedfirst-year draftees" were sent to fight in Chechnya.

Zyuganov’s Economic Program

May 28 saw publication of Zyuganov’s long-awaited economic program.Drafted under the supervision of one-time Gosplan economistTatyana Koryagina, the program promised to reverse the "catastrophicresults" of the Yeltsin years by stimulating domestic productionand ensuring "social justice" for all members of society.Contrary to predictions in the anti-Communist press, the programdid not call for widescale renationalization but pledged to maintaina "multi-layered economy," prompting Nezavisimaya gazetato comment that it seemed to owe more to Keynes than to Marx.It did, however, promise to put a stop to further privatizationand envisaged strong state intervention to support domestic producersby raising import tariffs and controlling energy and transportprices. The program’s authors denied the predictions of pro-marketeconomists that it would fuel inflation and set Russia on a collisioncourse with the International Monetary Fund.

Duma Approves Law on Transfer of Power

On May 22 the Russian Duma adopted in its second reading a billon the transfer of power from one president to another. The Communist-supportedbill sought to block the possibility that if Zyuganov won thepresidential election, Yeltsin would find some way of preventingZyuganov from taking the reins of power. During the 30 days elapsingbetween the announcement of the election results and the inaugurationof the new president, the outgoing president would, accordingly,be obliged to keep the president-elect fully informed of troopmovements and of any decision concerning the introduction of astate of emergency or martial law. The president-elect would havethe right to sit in on top-level government meetings. The lawwould also require a new president to suspend his membership inall political parties and movements — a provision Zyuganov saidhe was prepared to observe.

In its third and final reading the Duma also adopted a new landcode May 22. Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun deplored thenew legislation, which bans the free sale of agricultural land,saying it would deny 11 million farmers the possibility of disposingfreely of plots of land received when the state and collectivefarms were reorganized. Yeltsin responded May 24 with a pledgeto veto the legislation.

Surprising the OECD

Russia surprised the world May 21 when it made an official applicationto become the first former Soviet republic to apply for membershipin the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,the "rich man’s club" embracing 27 industrialized countries.So far, the Czech Republic and Hungary are the only former Communistcountries accepted as members, though Poland is set to join andRussia signed a cooperation agreement with the OECD two yearsago. While Russia is far from meeting all the OECD membershipcriteria, the organization’s initial response was positive andacceptance would be a further sign of Western support for Yeltsin’seconomic reforms.

Profile Raising in Latin America