The Week Ahead: Chechnya, Chernomyrdin, and the CIS Summit in Minsk will dominate
Chechnya, Chernomyrdin and the CIS summit in Minsk will dominatethe week ahead.
The fighting in Chechnya will intensify now that Yeltsin hasvetoed a plan for talks, and that the Russian army is moving intothe mountains in the southern part of the country. Yeltsin’sactions will infuriate the Chechens, cost the Chechen commandsome of its control over angry subordinate units, and lead toeven more violence. Moreover, by eliminating any chance of talks,Yeltsin may lead some Chechens to conclude that they should launchterrorist attacks against Russian targets outside of Chechnyaitself. The initial attacks would almost certainly be againstmilitary facilities or oil pipelines, but as the fighting intensifies,the Chechens might attack a civilian target as well–or the Russiansecurity services might stage such an attack as a provocation. And as the Russian army moves into the mountains, Russian casualtieswill quickly mount. The Chechens know the difficult terrain,and they can be counted on to do their best to kill more Russiantroops. That in turn could spark protests in Moscow by politicalgroups hoping to exploit growing Russian unease with the war.
The big question mark for next week is the fate of Russian primeminister Chernomyrdin. His new bloc is not doing well–wits inMoscow now call his movment "Our Home is Gazprom," areference to the backing his group has from big business and theold nomenklatura–and now Yeltsin has overruled him on Chechnya. He is unlikely to resign, but his standing has been diminishedwithin the regime even if his stand on Chechnya may win him broaderpublic support. More to the point, this latest contretemps suggeststhat Chernomyrdin may be preparing to challenge Yeltsin himselfif presidential elections are held in Russia next year.
And on May 26, the presidents of the 12 member states of theCommonwealth of Independent States are supposed to meet in Minskand sign more than 20 agreements expanding their ties. CIS officialshave already said that Yeltsin will sign a new pact with Belarusand that other states will be invited to do the same. Few arelikely to take that step, and Russian urgings in that directionmay mean that even fewer will do so. The presidents are unlikelyto sign all the agreements in any case; only one establishinghuman rights standards and another establishing new rules forcurrency exchange seem set to go through easily among the majorpacts that have been proposed.
ALSO WATCH FOR…
–The Moscow OSCE talks on Karabakh may yield a small result:a call for international peacekeepers to be sent to the region. That will put Western leaders in a bind. They do not want tosend troops, but they also are not inclined to allow Russia tohave a totally free hand, particularly because of the implicationsthat Russian control of the region would have for the export ofAzerbaijani and Central Asian oil and gas.
–Russian pressure on Kiev over Crimea will increase but it islikely to be counterproductive with President Leonid Kuchma usingMoscow’s statements as exhibit A in his campaign to win greaterWestern support.
–The talks in Kabul between the Tajik government and the Tajikopposition are unlikely to make much progress beyond a call formore talks in the future–this despite increasing Russian warweariness and combined Russian and Uzbek pressure on Dushanbeto be more accommodating.