Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 3

The Fortnight in Review

The Fortnight in Review

Will Yeltsin Abandon Economic Reform in Search of Votes?

In Russian domestic developments, the last two weeks saw President Boris Yeltsin appoint an enterprise director, Vladimir Kadannikov, as first deputy prime minister in place of the reformer Anatoly Chubais. The cumulative effect of the personnel changes made by the president since the December elections is such that Russia can plausibly be said to have acquired a new government. Reformers remain ensconced in nooks and crannies, notably in the Central Bank and the Ministry of Economics, but they are an endangered species. The journalist Yevgeny Vasilchuk seemed in little doubt when he wrote on January 26: "The economic program of the opposition has begun to be translated into life."

Kadannikov’s first ministerial task was to negotiate with Russia’s striking coal miners. The strike was only two days old when the government agreed to all the miners’ demands, including increased subsidies for the industry in 1996. And, in an another apparent effort to woo a disaffected electorate, Yeltsin in recent weeks has made numerous promises to increase welfare spending — on Chechen reconstruction, wage arrears, student grants. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was quietly exultant. Asked why the Party was not pressing for the government’s resignation, the Communist Speaker of the Duma, Gennady Seleznev, explained that "the President and government have started to put into effect the ideas advocated by the KPRF and other opposition parties." (1) The most ominous concession to the hard-liners so far was made on February 5, when the procurator general announced an investigation into the privatization of several of Russia’s largest industrial enterprises and predicted that the probe would result in criminal charges.

With the miners’ strike suspended, attention shifted to the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where world business leaders were gathering for their annual forum. All eyes were on an unusual participant — KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov. Zyuganov assured Western investors that their money would be far safer in a Communist-ruled Russia than under the present government. The KPRF is a reformed party that supports a mixed economy and a multiparty system and takes its inspiration not from Stalinist central planning but from the New Economic Policy, initiated by Lenin in the 1920s, Zyuganov argued. He said his party would favor Western investment by passing good laws and, what is more, making them stick.

Zyuganov’s message provoked an impassioned response from Chubais, who was also present in Davos. He warned participants that there were two Zyuganovs: one for export and the other for domestic consumption. Chubais cited KPRF policy documents to support his allegation that the Communists are planning to renationalize heavy industry, banking, transport and agriculture, and that bloodshed would inevitably result. Chubais’ warning was dismissed by one leading Western businessman as the kind of posturing and positioning" to be expected in the run-up to an election. Other observers recalled that, during a visit to London the previous month, Chubais confidently asserted that market reform had progressed so far in Russia that it had become irreversible.

Chubais, however, was right to point out the possibility of dramatic change. In fact, in policy documents and statements published inside Russia, Communist leaders make no secret of their intentions. The first priority of a Communist president, according to the Speaker of the Duma, Seleznev, will be a new and "more Soviet" constitution. This will abolish the presidency and recreate a hierarchy of local soviets. Executive functions will be exercised by a Council of Ministers appointed by and accountable to parliament, which will be renamed the Supreme Soviet.

Zyuganov himself made no attempt to disguise his sentiments when, in a February 1 op-ed piece in the New York Times, he expressed his desire to restore the might of the Russian state and its status in the world. He also laid out a vision of Russia that placed him squarely in the "Slavophile" camp in the debate that has preoccupied Russians for centuries. Whereas "Westernisers" argue that, to realize its potential as a great power, Russia must adopt some western customs and find ways of integrating with the rest of Europe, "Slavophiles" insist that Russian civilization is a unique mixture of European and Asiatic influences that can never be wholly reconciled with the individualistic and materialistic values of the West. There is much in Zyuganov’s article to distinguish him as a Slavophile. Russia’s economy and character are quite different, he writes, from those of the West and the attempt of the Yeltsin leadership to graft western values on to the Russian body has led to disaster. Zyuganov ends by stressing that, while Russia is interested in expanding contacts, trade and cooperation with the USA, "we insist on acknowledgment of our equal right to follow our own path in accordance with our traditions and conditions."


1. Izvestiya, January 27


Uncertain Times For East-West Relations

Relations between Russia and the West skittered into a twilight zone of uncertainty over the past two weeks as Western leaders tried, during a series of bilateral talks and at an international security conference in Munich, to buck up a Russian leader in whose commitment to reform and partnership they had increasingly less faith. Meanwhile, a similar and parallel balancing act was taking place in Moscow, where beleaguered Russian president Boris Yeltsin spoke in reassuring tones to the West while moving furiously in the lead-up to the June presidential election to co-opt the platforms of his nationalist, anti-western opposition. The result, not surprisingly, was a two-week period long on rhetoric but short on achievement, during which the specific subjects of discussion were NATO enlargement and ratification by Russia of the 1993 START II nuclear disarmament treaty, but the context was the broader and more vexing question: Whither Russia?

The tone for the past fortnight’s events was set during a 40-minute telephone conversation January 26 between Yeltsin and U.S. president Bill Clinton, which itself followed the long-delayed ratification by the U.S. Senate earlier in the day of the START II Treaty. Yeltsin was to describe the conversation as the start of a "second honeymoon" between Russia and the U.S., a characterization that was echoed, if in less earthy terms, by Clinton administration spokesmen. The U.S. administration also claimed to have accepted Yeltsin’s explanation that the recent sacrifice of reformers in the Russian government represented a "tactical" rather than a "strategic" shift in Russian policy, and that the "complex political environment" in which Yeltsin was operating compelled him to take "different turns and twists along the pathway to reform."

Clinton also reportedly reiterated that Russia needed to seek a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, but that topic was already being supplanted in importance by the START II Treaty and NATO enlargement. Yeltsin promised to press the Russian parliament to approve the START II Treaty and suggested that ratification might come before the G-7 summit scheduled for April in Moscow. But, on a more confrontational note, Yeltsin repeated Moscow’s strong opposition to NATO enlargement and argued that it would be detrimental not only to Russia, but to Europe and the international community.

Yeltsin’s assurances on START II notwithstanding, opposition to quick approval coalesced quickly in the Russian parliament and with a vehemence suggesting that unconditional ratification before Yeltsin’s April deadline was unlikely. The opposition was spearheaded by the Communist and liberal democratic parties in the Russian Duma, but there was also evidence of reservations about the treaty among key figures in Russia’s Defense and Foreign Ministries who were thought previously to favor ratification. One objection voiced by all parties involved concern over continued U.S. adherence to the 1972 ABM Treaty. A number of Russian leaders also linked START II ratification to NATO enlargement. They argued that enlargement would alter the geostrategic environment in which START II was negotiated and that the deployment of nuclear weaponry in former Warsaw Pact states along Russia’s periphery that might accompany NATO enlargement would obligate Russia to rethink its nuclear strategy and obligations. However justified these objections, the greater reality appeared to be that approval would be difficult in the politically super-charged atmosphere likely to prevail during the current election campaign. This point led one influential parliamentarian to urge postponement of any vote on the issue until after the election.

The sugar-coated impasse in Russian-U.S. relations was reflected in Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s five-day visit to Washington. The Clinton administration publicly embraced Chernomyrdin’s assurances of continued economic and political reform in Russia, and threw its weight behind the granting to Russia of an IMF three-year $9 billion loan. The U.S. government also concluded a complex agreement to loan $1 billion to the Russian airline Aeroflot for the construction of a fleet of wide-bodied jetliners. The loan, to be floated by the U.S. Export-Import Bank, was negotiated in part by the joint U.S.-Russian Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. It will finance jet engines manufactured by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney division, as well as electronic components by Rockwell international, for the building of twenty new Ilyushin IL-96 airliners. But the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission reached few other substantive agreements, and there was speculation in Washington that even the IMF loan, should it be granted to Russia, would come with a number of strings attached.

Across the Atlantic, Russia’s admission on January 25 into the Council of Europe appeared to put the issue of Russian actions in Chechnya at least temporarily on the back burner, and NATO enlargement emerged as the dominant topic of Euro-Russian discourse. Following an amicable meeting with German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel in Moscow on January 27, Yeltsin proclaimed that Russia and Germany saw eye-to-eye on virtually all international issues, with the exception of NATO expansion. Yeltsin urged Kinkel to work with Russia in forestalling enlargement, a Russian position that was reinforced two days later when Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov admonished Eastern European countries to forego entry into the Western alliance. These entreaties came as the 27 signatory countries to the Partnership for Peace program gathered in Brussels January 28 for instruction on how to proceed with their applications for membership to NATO.

The conflict over NATO enlargement came to a head February 3-4 at the annual Wehrkunde meeting of defense experts in Munich, where an attack on the plans and motivations of the Western alliance was delivered by Russian first deputy defense minister Andrei Kokoshin. The presentation drew rebukes and accusations of Russian "saber-rattling" from Western participants. Yet the more noteworthy development at the conference was the empathy for Russia’s security needs demonstrated by German chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. defense secretary William Perry, among others. While reaffirming the appropriateness of NATO’s planned enlargement, each emphasized the importance of integrating Russia into any future European security system and urged the construction of a special relationship between NATO and Russia. Perry pointed especially to NATO-Russian joint efforts in the Bosnian peace operation as a model for future cooperation, a theme that has also been at the center of a concerted effort in recent weeks by top NATO leaders to convince Moscow that it has nothing to fear, and much to gain, from friendly relations with the Western alliance.



Russian Federation: Chechen Independence Fervor Undimmed as Anti-War Sentiment Spreads in Russia

The war in Chechnya is now a critical factor in the Russian presidential campaign, adding a self-inflicted wound to Yeltsin’s already serious political predicament. The murderous handling and clumsy cover-up of the Pervomaiskoye hostage affair, all with Yeltsin’s public blessing, activated a latent wave of public opposition to the war and its heavy economic and human costs. Opinion polls show record levels of anti-war sentiment, and many observers have concluded that Yeltsin’s re-election chances hinge in part on whether or not he can wind down the war. The latest developments also accelerated the exodus of democrats and reformers from the Yeltsin administration. Sergei Kovalev and other departing members of the presidential council announced that they can no longer distinguish between a president beholden to a militaristic and authoritarian entourage and Yeltsin’s Communist opponents in the upcoming election.

Within the government, architects of the war differed over what to do next. Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov advocated a program to spend 6 trillion rubles and 1 billion dollars to rebuild Chechnya and pacify its people, while using force to the degree necessary to prop up the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. The power ministries for their part prepared a plan for district-by-district attacks on Chechen forces in order completely to destroy them along with–as the commander of Russia’s combined forces in Chechnya, Lt. General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, made clear–the towns and villages sheltering them.

In the last days of January, Yeltsin’s one-time heir presumptive, the reformist governor of Nizhny Novgorod oblast, Boris Nemtsov presented to Yeltsin a petition to end the war in Chechnya and withdraw the troops. With more than one million signatures collected in the space of one week, Nemtsov said he felt that tens of millions of signatures could be collected within one month throughout Russia to force the government to stop the war.

In Chechnya itself, a marathon demonstration in Grozny’s central square in support of independence and of Dzhokhar Dudayev began February 4 and continued each day thereafter, with more than 10,000 participating on any given day. Crowds from the countryside seeking to join the demonstrations in Grozny were blocked by Russian troops. Demonstrators erected a tent city in front of the bombed-out former presidential palace despite the Russian military command’s threats to disperse them by force. Demonstrations were also held in Gudermes, Argun, Shali, and other towns only recently attacked by Russian troops.

Ukraine: National Interests Before "Priority" Relations with Russia

Russia’s new foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov visited Kiev in early February for a comprehensive review of disputed issues, in an apparent effort to relaunch bilateral relations. The visit tested Primakov’s statements, since taking over his new post, that the focus of Russian foreign policy would shift toward the CIS countries and that Ukraine would be accorded priority within that context. Two days of talks by Primakov with President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian officials appeared to yield some progress. Admiral Eduard Baltin, the Black Sea Fleet’s Russian commander and a long-time opponent of the Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the fleet’s partition, was at last removed from his post. Moscow shelved an earlier decision taken jointly with Kiev to remove the admiral. Primakov appeared no longer to make an official visit by Boris Yeltsin to Kiev conditional on the prior resolution of remaining disputes over the fleet. A date in early April was tentatively set for Yeltsin to pay the visit and sign the interstate treaty long under negotiation; and Kuchma announced that the Russian president had, in a telephone conversation, personally consented to the scheduling and also to de-linking the visit from fleet issues.

Yet any understandings that may have been reached appeared to unravel in the days that followed. Yeltsin’s spokesman announced that the president’s visit to Ukraine to sign the treaty was still linked to a conclusive settlement of the Black Sea Fleet dispute. That dispute centers on basing rights for Russia’s share of the fleet and the conditions and terms for Russian use of Ukrainian-owned coastal infrastructure in the Crimea.

Unresolved issues, it turned out, continued to block the signing of the political treaty itself. Primakov did not agree to define Ukraine’s borders in a way that would eliminate distinctions between "intra-CIS" and "external" borders; Moscow seeks to treat the two "types" of borders differently while Kiev insists on codifying all of the country’s borders in accordance with international law. Primakov’s visit also failed seriously to address Kiev’s grievances over the imposition of Russian tariff barriers against Ukrainian export products, in violation of the bilateral free trade treaty.

In the wake of the talks, Kiev officials also highlighted their differences with Moscow over NATO’s enlargement: Moscow described any enlargement as "absolutely inadmissible" while Ukraine supported an "evolutionary" enlargement and reaffirmed its opposition to the formation of "parallel" security structures in the CIS. And even as the state leaders and diplomats were revealing those differences, energy officials of the two countries gave up their latest attempts to agree on transit fees for Russian oil exported westward through Ukraine’s pipelines. The Russian government contested Ukraine’s right to hike the fees by 10 percent even though Russian oil companies have accepted the increase and signed contracts with Ukraine for the transit.

Tajikistan: Redistribution of Spoils Heals Regime Rift

On January 26, ethnic Uzbek allies of the Dushanbe government rose against it in southern and western Tajikistan. The Defense Ministry’s 1st motorized brigade under Colonel Mahmud Hudoberdiev in Kurgan-Tyube and the former Popular Front detachment under field commander Ibodullo Boimatov in Tursunzade advanced apparently uncoordinated but overlapping sets of demands, aiming at a redistribution of power and graft within the ranks of the regime. They sought to reduce the disproportionate influence enjoyed by the Kulyab clan of President Imomali Rahmonov, which defeated the Islamic-democratic coalition in the 1992-93 civil war with decisive Uzbek help, only to appropriate most of the spoils afterward with Russian support and to the detriment of its allies.

The two insurgent forces threatened to march on Dushanbe; but they also had to take into account the presence in the country of 25,000 Russian troops with overwhelmingly superior equipment. Throughout the tense standoff, the insurgents continued at least outwardly to profess loyalty to their Russian allies. Moscow advised Rahmonov to broaden his regime’s base in its own interest and concede on some of the insurgents’ demands; but Russian support for the Tajik president was never in question. President Boris Yeltsin dispatched his national security adviser Yuri Baturin to buttress Rahmonov and mediate a political compromise. Baturin and the commander of Russian "peacekeeping" troops’ commander, Lt. General Viktor Zavarzin, succeeded at least temporarily in reconciling the factions. On February 5 the insurgents settled for partial concessions, chief among which was the dismissal of First Deputy Prime Minister Mahmadsaid Ubaidolloev, who is responsible for overseeing Tajikistan’s military and security forces and also reportedly controls informally the aluminum and cotton industries.

"The Fortnight in Review"was written by Jamestown Foundation senior analysts Stephen Foye and Vladimir Socor, and a special correspondent.