Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 8

The political situation continues to deteriorate in Armenia

Barring the unexpected–something one can never quite do in theRussian case as last week’s events showed–three events are likelyto dominate the news in the coming week: political maneuveringprior to the Presidential Security Council meeting , and to theDuma no confidence vote at the end of the week, more fallout fromthe Chechen talks including continued violations of the ceasefire by both sides, and a worsening political crisis in Armeniawith some in the opposition possibly openly challenging the governmentof President Levon Ter-Petrosian for power.

Political Maneuvering

Members of the Russian parliament and the Russian governmentare likely to spend the coming week in intense political infightingas the two sides prepare for the fateful June 29 meeting of thePresidential Security Council–where the futures of several keypower ministers are likely to be decided–and for a scheduledrevote in the Duma two days later on its confidence in the government. To the extent that Yeltsin carries through with his promisesto sack one of the ministers blamed for the Chechen and Budennovskdebacles, the vote in the Duma against the government is likelyto fail. But if Yeltsin does not or cannot dismiss some of thesepeople, the Duma could pass a measure which would force the Russianpresident either to disband the parliament or to dismiss Chernomyrdin’scabinet. Either of these outcomes could trigger a political crisisfar more serious than the one seen so far: In the first instance,by leading some in the security services to conclude that Yeltsincan no longer be trusted to defend them, and that he must be replaced;in the second, by forcing an election, or the formation of a newcabinet, either of which would lead to a full dress review ofthe government’s approach and Yeltsin’s stewardship. As of thiswriting, Yeltsin seems set to go ahead with the dismissals andto take his chances with the security forces.

The Chechen Talks

The Chechen talks are likely to continue into next week, butso are sporadic firefights between the Russian and Chechen forces. That, and continued revelations about government confusion andincompetence in the handling of the Budennovsk hostage crisis,will likely trigger more media exchanges on government policy,and a sharper division among Russians between those who believethe Chechens should simply be crushed militarily, and those whorecognize that such conclusions had landed Russia in its currentdilemma. To the extent that Moscow officials feel compelled totake a harder line in public, at least some Chechen commandersare likely to take actions in the field, not excluding terroristattacks on Russian facilities in areas neighboring Chechnya, oreven Moscow. Some in the Russian security services will be onlytoo pleased to exploit such attacks to defend themselves againstYeltsin’s effort to remove them and to press for a return to amore authoritarian Russian state.


And finally, the coming week is likely to see a dramatic worseningof the political situation in Armenia. As both the governmentand the opposition prepare for the July 5 elections and the July7 trial of activists whom the Yerevan authorities have accusedof planning terrorist acts against the government, tempers willcontinue to flare. The pro-government attack on demonstratorslast week, and the opposition’s announcement of its plans to createan alternative government, not only increase instability in thecountry but raise the possibility that either President Ter-Petrosianor the opposition may try to take even more extreme measures todefend their respective positions. One possibility is that Ter-Petrosianmight appeal to Moscow for military forces to back him up; anotheris that military commanders in Armenia might decide to stage acoup.


Other developments likely next week include:

–Chinese Premier Li Peng will visit Kiev and Moscow. In thefirst case, the Beijing leader will seek to use ties to Kiev tocounterbalance Russian power; in the second, Moscow is likelyto try to restore at least some of the ties with Beijing whichhad broken down after the collapse of the USSR.

–Both ethnic Russians in Moldova’s Transdniestr region, andother outside groups interested in obtaining weapons, are likelyto challenge the new Russian military commander of the 14th Armyin the coming days. Gen. Yevnevich has pledged to safeguard theammunition dumps there, but the turmoil in his command followingthe forced departure of Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed may reduce Russiancontrol of the weapons stockpiled there.

–European and American visits to the Baltic countries last weekare likely to cause Baltic leaders to make their requests forearly entrance into NATO ever more public. In response, Moscowmay seek to exploit its economic position there, as it did withthe Baltija bank last month, or to rally some of the ethnic Russiansin Estonia as the July12 deadline for the registration of non-citizensapproaches in that country.

–Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev continues his travelsin the Far East, seeking foreign ties which will balance his country’sdependence on Russia. Other Central Asian states will be equallyactive next week in sending their officials abroad and receivingforeign visitors. All this activity is likely to make Moscownervous, even though most Russian officials will be focusing onother issues.

–Belarus will likely continue its schizophrenic foreign policy,with the president talking about closer integration with Russia,and the foreign ministry and central bank pushing for closer tiesto Western countries. As a result, President Aleksandr Lukashenkomay make another effort to resolve the impasse which resultedwhen electors failed to fill more than half of the seats in thenew parliament last month, and thus left the country without aneffective legislature.