The Russian election campaign begins in earnest
Three events are likely to dominate the week ahead: the Chechentalks and the possible resumption of fighting there, growing Russiananger over the deteriorating situation in Tajikistan and a possibledecision to reinforce Russian forces there or to pull out of Tajikistanaltogether, and the launching of the parliamentary election campaignwith party officials scrambling for both money and allies.
The Chechen talks are likely to stumble on because many in Moscowfear what might happen if they don’t, and because the Chechensseem to have no other choice. But as the Russian position hardensover the key question of the current and future status of Chechnya,dissident Chechens may launch attacks on Russian targets bothwithin Chechnya and in Russia itself. Another Budennovsk is unlikely–Russiancontrol seems to have improved in the North Caucasus since thattime–but the work of a single terrorist even in Moscow cannotnow be excluded. Reports that Dzhokhar Dudayev and Shamil Basayevwill go into exile seem premature, although Moscow is pressingthem hard to take that step. Should either or both of them leave,that would discourage many Chechen nationalists, but also almostcertainly would allow other, less well-known but perhaps equallyradical, Chechens to come to the fore.
Every day, Russian television and radio bring reports about newoutrages in Tajikistan, both against the Russian troops there,and by the Tajik authorities who seem incapable of dealing withthe situation. Ever more Russians are disgusted with the seeminglyendless fighting and want Moscow to end its involvement by a massiveshow of force–the minority view–or rapid withdrawal. That debatewill only become more intense, especially if the Tajik oppositionlaunches the general attack which Russian officials say it plannedat a recent meeting in Afghanistan. And a further collapse ofauthority in Tajikistan would have serious consequences for leadersin the other countries in the region, with some trying to guaranteetheir own positions by force and others trying to do the samething by reaching out to the population.
And as the parliament winds down, the election campaign willtake off in earnest with current and future parliamentarians seekingvotes, allies, and first of all money. Russian commentators havesuggested that the upcoming campaign will cost so much that Russia’sbanks and criminal organizations will have a disproportionateinfluence. That influence is likely to become visible next week,and to raise disturbing questions about just who will run thenew Duma, the power of which has been diminished during its recentclashes with Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin.
Other developments to watch next week include:
–The Constitutional Court is likely to rule on the legalityof Yeltsin’s decrees which launched the Russian intervention inChechnya, and to find for the president rather than the Duma andFederation Council. This finding will have far broader implicationsthan many expect: it will signal that Yeltsin now has one lessconstraint on his actions, a fact which is likely to infuriatemany in the political class even as it reassures both Westerninvestors and many Russians outside of Moscow.
–Talks in Minsk will take place between Belarusian presidentAleksandr Lukashenko and Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. Theoutcome and even tone of these talks will provide a useful barometerof just how far these two countries are prepared to cooperatewith each other or against Russia within the CIS.
–The aftermath of the Armenian elections and the return to legalstatus of the Dashnak nationalist party are likely to lead tomore turmoil in Yerevan. Although the government has announcedthe results of the elections, and has claimed victory for boththe constitution and the government bloc in the parliament, theopposition is likely to step up its demands for a new vote, particularlyif the Dro terrorist trial resumes.
–Reaction to Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev’s speechesto the parliament on foreign policy are likely to provoke a fulldress debate on Russia’s approach both to her "near abroad"and to the West, one in which both Kozyrev and his opponents willlikely set out their respective agendas for the next several months.
–The protests in Turkmenistan could spread, particularly ifthe regime fails to come down hard on those who marched last weekto demand new elections. Should that occur, Central Asia’s mostoutwardly stable but inwardly repressive regime could be in trouble,particularly if one or more key political figures in the currentregime decide to throw in their lot with the population.
–The Russian parliament goes into the final week of its sessionwith a large number of unresolved issues. Tempers are likely toflare, and much legislation is likely to be passed with only minimalconsideration. One upshot of this is that contradictions amongvarious pieces of legislation, as in the case of laws about theoil industry, are likely to increase.