The Week Ahead: Drawing Lines in Europe & in Russia
Continued fighting in Chechnya, diplomatic explorations of the new environment after Moscow, and the delimitation of political factions in Russia for the upcoming elections are three of the most important developments to watch in the week ahead. The fighting in Chechnya is likely to continue to ebb and flow with the Russian forces continuing their attacks on Chechen villages and Chechen fighters staging hit and run attacks on Russian units. Having failed to generate much support for its anti-Dudayev conference, Moscow may try again to find someone in Chechnya who could rally those who are not happy with the consequences of the war. That search will be difficult; consequently, Moscow is likely to flog more stories about its "reconstruction" efforts in Grozny in an effort to put this event behind it.
More important, many countries in the region are likely to explore the new situation that has emerged following President Clinton’s acceptance of the Russian position on CFE and Yeltsin’s decision to sign on to Partnership for Peace. Ukrainian President Kuchma’s support for NATO expansion is certainly the first indication of this new diplomatic offensive; comments by the Lithuanian foreign ministry last week are another. Many countries–particularly the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Moldova–are likely to be especially interested in where they stand and even feel a sense of urgency given the hardening of Moscow’s position and the apparent softening of Washington’s.
In Russia, the most important event will almost certainly be the forming of electoral blocs now that the Duma has passed the parliamentary election law. The Chernomyrdin bloc is first out of the gate this weekend, and who attends the meeting and what they say will be an indication of where he stands in the competition. Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin will also work to form up his bloc this week. And other groups and leaders–including parties like the Liberal Democratic Party and individuals like Andrei Kozyrev–will be forced to define where they stand more clearly. The election campaign thus begins in earnest.
Other events to watch in the coming week:
–A continuing tug of war over pipelines in the Caucasus in the light of President Clinton’s embargo on Iran.
–The fate of General Lebed who may or may not be forced out of the army and consequently into politics.
–Belorusian voting on the referenda that would tie Minsk ever closer to Moscow and restore Soviet-era symbolism there. The parliamentary voting will matter less.
–Armenian-Azerbaijani talks on Karabakh. Movement is now more possible but still not likely.
–Uzbek-Kazakh negotiations on gas deliveries for an indication of how quickly Central Asian integration may taken place.