The Fortnight in Review
Chechen president Djohar Dudaev was killed by a Russian helicopter-launched rocket April 22 while he was making a satellite telephone call to a potential mediator. The rocket also administered the coup de grace to Yeltsin’s peace plan, originally announced March 31. The plan’s main components — a cease-fire, mediated talks, political status for Chechnya, and a troop withdrawal–appeared not to be taken seriously in Moscow even before Dudaev’s slaying. Military operations against civilian settlements in fact escalated, the most basic canons of mediation were flaunted, plans were publicized for permanent basing of troops in Chechnya, and a Russian general (Nikolai Koshman) was appointed prime minister in Grozny by Moscow fiat.
These developments prompted an unprecedented spate of Western criticism. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission, and senior officials such as German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel issued statements condemning the killing of civilians and destruction of towns and villages. In a dramatic report, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders–which has personnel on the ground in Chechnya — described the military operations against civilian settlements there as "the most brutal [it has] witnessed anywhere in the world." At the G-7 summit in Moscow, however, U.S. president Bill Clinton stood out by — again — comparing Russia to Civil War America and Yeltsin’s policy to that of Abraham Lincoln.
By all accounts, mobile Chechen detachments continued to move freely through most of the country, reappearing in the heart of lowland areas supposedly under solid Russian control. Some of the most effective attacks mounted by resistance forces during this period occurred in those areas. In one action which caused serious political repercussions in Moscow, 93 Russian soldiers were killed and scores wounded in a single nighttime ambush. Chechen commanders grew fond of saying that Russian forces control only the ground they are physically standing on.
With the endorsement of leading field commanders, the Chechen security council, highest leadership body of the resistance, named vice-president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev acting president and commander in chief to succeed Dudaev. Rumors in Moscow about internecine rivalries within the resistance and an alleged assassination of Yandarbiev preoccupied the mass media for several days before Yandarbiev appeared on resistance television and then before Western reporters.
Born in 1952 to a Chechen family deported to Kazakhstan, Yandarbiev started out as an ordinary worker before acquiring a literary education and becoming himself a writer and publishing house executive in Grozny. He was a co-founder and key leader of the Chechen People’s Congress, the mass movement that in 1991 ousted from power the Chechen communists and their leader, Doku Zavgaev — the man whom Moscow brought back to Grozny as figurehead leader in 1995. Yandarbiev renewed Dudaev’s acceptance of negotiations, with a strong preference for direct rather than mediated talks, but excluding the participation of Russian officials who might be implicated in Dudaev’s slaying.
BACKING BORIS: Summiteering, Electioneering, And Debt Relief
The long-planned G-7 nuclear security summit, held in Moscow April 19-20 and co-hosted by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, went much as expected. Several agreements were announced, including a joint program on preventing illegal trafficking of nuclear materials, a joint declaration on nuclear safety and security, and a joint statement that committed Russia to signing a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Yeltsin also pledged to sign by year’s end a 1993 convention prohibiting nuclear waste dumping at sea, and, in talks with U.S. president Bill Clinton Yeltsin promised to lobby Beijing to commit to the nuclear test ban treaty. Clinton and Yeltsin also reportedly made some progress in resolving differences over the 1990 CFE Treaty and the 1972 ABM Treaty.
But the disinclination of Western leaders to criticize Yeltsin in the run-up to the Russian presidential election ensured that issues potentially embarrassing to the Kremlin, like the war in Chechnya or legitimate concerns over security and safety conditions in Russia’s nuclear energy complex, were glossed over or ignored. Leaders of the G-7, including the formerly more circumspect Japanese prime minister, stopped just short of endorsing Yeltsin’s candidacy.
Differences nevertheless remained. Yeltsin reiterated Moscow’s sharp opposition to NATO enlargement, for example, and suggested that Russia might be given a formal veto power over the admittance of new members. Yeltsin was rebuffed on that issue, just as he was rebuffed April 20 when he presented a nine-point plan to promote international nuclear security that included a proposal for the creation of a nuclear-weapons free zone in Eastern Europe. Yeltsin’s public lobbying for Moscow’s admittance as a full member of an enlarged G-8 was met with silence by the summit’s participants. Clinton and Yeltsin also clashed over Moscow’s intention to follow through with the sale of nuclear reactors to Iran.
But the West again signaled its support for Yeltsin’s candidacy when, on April 28, the Paris Club of creditor nations signed a long-term agreement to reschedule some $40 billion of Russia’s foreign debts. The deal was said to exceed the amount of all the agreements negotiated with the Club in the 40 years of its existence. Russia won 25 years in which to repay the principal of the debt and an initial six-year grace period during which only interest payments will be due, meaning that repayment of the capital amount will not begin until 2002. Western generosity was seen both as a sign of confidence in the progress of Russia’s economic reforms and as the latest indication of how far the West was prepared to go to boost Yeltsin’s reelection prospects.
LOOKING TO BEIJING
But Boris Yeltsin’s visit to China, richer in symbolism and featuring a marginally higher ratio of substance to politicking than did the G-7 Summit, was the dominant foreign policy event of the fortnight. Yeltsin received a grand welcome in Beijing April 24 as he kicked off his second visit to China. A two-hour meeting in the Great Hall of the People the next day with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, produced a joint communique proclaiming the establishment of a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. The document blasted the West and the U.S. for what was described as "hegemonism, power politics, and repeated imposition of pressures on other countries." According to Yeltsin, the Chinese leader joined Russia in proclaiming the "impermissibility" of NATO enlargement. Jiang reportedly voiced support for Russian actions in Chechnya as well, a favor that Yeltsin returned by calling Tibet and Taiwan inseparable parts of China. The two sides also signed more than a dozen trade and cooperation agreements. The day’s one discordant note came when Chinese leaders deflected Yeltsin’s efforts to win Beijing’s support for the comprehensive test ban treaty.
The West’s public reaction to the developments in Beijing was generally relaxed. The U.S. State Department suggested that improved relations between Russia and China promoted international stability. Western diplomats in Beijing observed that, despite the rhetoric, the agreements signed in China contained no concrete proposals jointly to oppose Western interests. The proceedings also appeared designed to paper over differences between the two Asian giants. One of those differences was vividly on display both before and following Yeltsin’s trip to China, as various groups in Russia’s Far East moved to undermine Moscow’s implementation of a key 1991 agreement on demarcation of the Russo-Chinese border.
RUSSIA’S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yeltsin Rebounding?
April 26 was the last day for registration of candidates for June’s presidential election. Eleven candidates have been registered: incumbent President Boris Yeltsin, Communist front-runner Gennady Zyuganov, Grigory Yavlinsky, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Svyatoslav Fedorov, Aleksandr Lebed, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Bryntsalov, Martin Shakkum, Aman Tuleev, and Yuri Vlasov. Galina Starovoitova, the only woman hoping to run, was refused registration on the grounds that signatures submitted by her supporters did not meet the official requirements; she said she would appeal to the Supreme Court. Five other people were also refused registration: Sergei Mavrodi, Vladimir Podoprigora, Artem Tarasov, Lev Ubozhko and Vyacheslav Ushakov.
An opinion poll conducted April 10-20 by the Moscow-based CESSI Institute for Comparative Social Research found Yeltsin for the first time edging ahead of Zyuganov, his nearest rival. It showed Yeltsin with the support of 20.7 percent of respondents, compared to 19.8 percent for Zyuganov. Yavlinsky was third with 6.5 percent, Zhirinovsky fourth with 4.8 percent, Lebed next with 4.7 percent, Fedorov with 3.2 percent, and Gorbachev with just under one percent. Publication of the findings gave a psychological boost to Yeltsin’s campaign, all previous polls having shown the president lagging behind his Communist rival. CESSI director Vladimir Andreenkov said undecided voters were beginning to make up their minds for Yeltsin. Even so, 33 percent of respondents said they would vote against all candidates, would not vote, or were undecided.
The Yeltsin camp was further encouraged by a poll conducted April 17-24 by the VTsIOM All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, which suggested that Yeltsin would win a straight fight against Zyuganov. Thirty-one percent of those questioned said they would vote for Yeltsin if he and Zyuganov were the only candidates, while 29 percent said they would vote for Zyuganov. Seventeen percent said they would vote against both candidates and 14 percent that they would not vote at all; 9 percent were undecided.
MANEUVERING IN AN UNRULY RACE
The Yeltsin team redoubled its efforts to persuade other candidates to stand down in Yeltsin’s favor. Aides made no secret of their concern that a proliferation of non-communist candidates could split the vote and either give Zyuganov a victory in the first round or open the way for Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky to fight it out in the second. Grigory Yavlinsky was the prime target of dissuasion efforts. But attempts to talk him out of the race were unsuccessful. Svyatoslav Fedorov announced April 23 that he, Yavlinsky, and Lebed had agreed to unite behind a single candidate and would make their final choice in May.
Pressure also came from business circles. On April 26, the heads of 13 prominent Russian financial institutions issued a vaguely worded appeal to leading presidential candidates to sit down at the negotiating table and work out a joint political strategy. The financiers, some of whom control influential media groups, expressed alarm that a victory by either Yeltsin or Zyuganov could split the country and provoke a civil war. The appeal was signed by Boris Berezovsky, president of the LogoVAZ banking group and co-chairman of Russian Public TV (ORT); Vladimir Gusinsky, chairman of the Most group which finances NTV; and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of Menatep Bank.
For their part, the Communists warned that, in the event of a Zyuganov victory, Yeltsin might try to cling to power by invalidating the elections and declaring emergency rule. To ward off this danger, the Communist faction in the Duma backed a law on the transfer of power that would oblige the outgoing president to keep the president-elect fully informed of political developments and, in particular, of any troop movements or plans to declare a state of emergency.
BALTIC SECURITY ASSUMES GROWING IMPORTANCE
The fortnight added to the growing body of evidence that the full independence and security of the Baltic states is not to be taken for granted as irreversible. Well known analyst Anton Surikov of Russia’s Defense Research Institute, known to be closely linked to the military hierarchy, gave an explosive interview threatening a preemptive military occupation of the Baltic states to stop their accession to NATO.
On the more moderate side of the Russian spectrum, Duma International Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s foreign policy aide Mikhail Tarasov assailed the Baltic States for their aspiration to join NATO and for the alleged oppression of their "Russian-speaking populations." In Estonia and Latvia, representatives of several Russified cities warned that they might set up parallel bodies of power and autonomous enclaves in those cities.
Latvian-Russian negotiations on delineating the common land border hit an impasse from their first round for essentially the same reason that blocked earlier Estonian-Russian negotiations. The Russian side peremptorily refused to recognize the validity of the 1920 treaties in which Soviet Russia had recognized the independence of those two Baltic states. Latvia and Estonia approached these negotiations prepared to drop claims to areas seized from them and annexed to the Russian Federation following the Soviet occupation. However, they insisted on Russian recognition of the legal continuity of their statehood after 1940 — a universally accepted tenet which represents the foundation of Baltic statehood in international law. Moscow’s refusal to grant this recognition raises security issues beyond the strictly legal ones.
The issue of Baltic accession to NATO gained in importance and urgency. Yet NATO’s secretary general Javier Solana’s get-acquainted visit to the Baltic States failed to provide conclusive answers to the pleas of Baltic leaders for reassurance, not on immediate admission per se but on their eligibility and on a timetable. Solana’s tour suggested that Baltic admission to the alliance was on the back burner. Czech president Vaclav Havel, who visited the Baltic states the same week, threw the full weight of his political and moral authority behind Baltic aspirations to join NATO.
UKRAINE MORE CONFIDENT IN FACING SECURITY PROBLEMS
Official rhetoric in Moscow grew shriller also with respect to the Black Sea Fleet and the problem of Sevastopol. Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin each made statements describing the city as an embodiment of Russian glory and as indispensable to Russia now and in the future. Defense minister Pavel Grachev ordered the suspension of the partition of ships and coastal facilities despite earlier agreements — including those signed last November by Grachev himself — to proceed with the second stage of the partition. Moscow insists on exclusive basing rights and, consequently, the removal of Ukraine’s nascent fleet from Sevastopol. The Russian fleet conducted large-scale exercises off the Crimean coast for the first time in several years, and its new commander, Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, announced that the fleet would receive additional ships, aircraft, and weapons systems to compensate for at least some of the assets lost.
Kiev also let it be known that it had not received this year "even a single" nuclear fuel rod of those due to be delivered by Russia in compensation for nuclear missile warheads delivered earlier by Ukraine to Russia under a trilateral 1994 agreement. Ukrainian officials publicly explained Moscow’s conduct on these and other issues by referring to competition for the nationalist vote in the Russian presidential campaign. While this view may yet be vindicated, it is also apparent that Moscow had been moving incrementally toward a harder line long before the current presidential campaign; that the Kremlin’s purported need to appease national sentiment has long been cited to explain, if not rationalize, that incremental shift; and that NATO’s enlargement plans are beginning to be cited by Moscow as justification for what it professes to see as necessary security measures on Russia’s western borders.
Kiev’s reaction to these trends seemed generally to be marked by confidence. President Leonid Kuchma and other officials multiplied contacts with Western counterparts, including those within NATO, and discussed plans for closer economic and security cooperation — the latter in a special relationship with NATO short of joining it. The earlier nervousness about NATO’s expansion plans continued to recede, except on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons that might come to be stationed on the territories of Ukraine’s Central European neighbors. Ukraine’s political and security contacts with Poland intensified during this fortnight. Kuchma outlined before the Council of Europe a bold program of political and economic cooperation with Western countries and Western multilateral organizations.
Ukraine also advanced toward its goal of obtaining the fulfillment of G-7 pledges to finance the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and associated programs. The G-7 nuclear safety summit agreed to move from pledges to concrete actions for an early start of the aid flow, now tentatively set at $3 billion through the year 2000. The summit also agreed in principle to consider reconstruction of the cracking Chernobyl sarcophagus as a distinct project requiring additional funding. These hopeful signs for Ukraine helped offset the negatives, one of which loomed in Belarus.
BELARUS NOT TO BE WRITTEN OFF
The April 2 agreement between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Aleksandr Lukashenko to create a Russia-Belarus Community reverberated uncertainly in the Belarus parliament. Some political circles which might have been expected to oppose the agreement adopted a wait-and-see attitude, leaving only a few politicians to bear the brunt of defending national independence. The center of resistance to the Yeltsin-Lukashenko scheme moved into the streets of Minsk.
The Popular Front took credit as the main organizer of three mass demonstrations in favor of national independence and against Lukashenko’s policies. It appeared to get a fresh lease of life after its surprising failure to win parliamentary seats in last year’s elections. Some of its leaders, notably Zyanon Pazdnyak, sought and apparently received support in some political circles in Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Trade unionists also turned out in strength for the demonstrations in Minsk.
The Constitutional Court, in the latest of a series of challenges to Lukashenko, requested parliament to enact legislation penalizing presidential noncompliance with Court verdicts ruling 11 presidential decrees unconstitutional. Lukashenko reacted by ordering arrests and administrative penalties against scores of demonstrators and prosecution of several Popular Front leaders.