Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 5

The Week Ahead: Moscow navigates the Yugoslav rapids

An expanded Russian military push in Chechnya, Russian concernsabout the international community’s response to Bosnian Serbs,and a Russian-Ukrainian summit on the division of the Black Seafleet will be the major stories in the region next week.

Moscow seems determined to press its military campaign againstChechen strongholds in the mountainous southern portion of Chechnya.One reason that Moscow may try to move this week is because internationalattention has been focused on other issues, including Bosnia.Another is that Yeltsin undoubtedly hopes to have the war behindhim by the time of the G-7 summit in Halifax later this month.Russian forces have surrounded several key Chechen-held villagesduring the past week and are set to attack them in the next fewdays. Casualties on both sides will increase especially sinceMoscow reports that the Chechens have recently received more modernweaponry. And new daily body counts are likely to have a politicalimpact in Moscow. But the war will not be over, and peace talksare unlikely any time soon.

Russian diplomats with Foreign Minister Kozyrev in the lead willbe in the thick of international conversations about what to doin Bosnia. They will certainly oppose President Clinton’s suggestionthat the US might be prepared to use its own forces in Bosnia,while attempting to pose as the only possible mediators in theconflict. The Bosnian Serbs are likely to release more Russianpeacekeepers this week, adding to the pressure on Moscow, a traditionalfriend of Serbia. But many in Moscow are weary of Serbian demandsand actions, and commentary there suggests that future BosnianSerb outrages may lead Moscow to shift its position.

On June 9, Russian President Yeltsin will meet Ukrainian presidentKuchma to discuss the future of the Black Seat fleet. Moscow’sposition on the fleet has hardened over the past week, and Yeltsinseems certain to demand both observance of existing agreementsand a Russian base at Sevastopol. Kuchma, locked in a politicalbattle with his own parliament, will not be able to concede much,although he is likely to look for some face-saving declarationas he has in the past. If the summit breaks up acrimoniously,pro-Moscow elements in Crimea may use the occasion to renew theirdemands for a referendum on closer ties with Moscow. Such a movewould put Moscow in a difficult position. For domestic reasons,Yeltsin cannot be seen as indifferent to the fate of ethnic Russiansliving outside the Russian Federation. For international ones–includingthe defense of existing borders as in Chechnya–he cannot go veryfar to meet the demands of Crimean Russians.

Other likely developments next week include:

–Moscow is likely to make progress on the rescheduling of its$130 billion foreign debt. Little will happen when Russian officialsmeet with Paris Club bankers, but conversations with Washingtonseem set to allow an announcement of a long-term reschedulingplan at the Halifax G-7 meetings later this month.

–Belarusian officials will try to convene the old parliamentin order for that body to reduce the number of deputies neededfor a quorum in the new one. Such an effort is needed becausethe first two rounds of parliamentary voting have filled only120 of the 260 seats. If this move fails, President AleksandrLukashenko may try to rule by decree.

–Georgians have until June 6 to turn in their weapons withoutpenalty; after that time, President Eduard Shevardnadze said,the authorities will conduct a massive crackdown to confiscatethe remaining ones. That could trigger violence.

–A trial of 11 people accused of being involved with a terroristgroup will begin in Yerevan. Because the political oppositionbelieves that Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan has inventedthese charges in order to give himself more power, the trial willlead to a new heating up of the parliamentary election campaignnow going on in that republic.

–Moscow’s efforts to force Azerbaijan to agree to a Russianpipeline route for its oil are likely to continue, and even toexpand this week. Last week’s visit to the Azerbaijani capitalby Russia’s energy minister suggests that Moscow will now usecarrots, e.g. no change in the status of the Caspian, as wellas sticks, i.e. economic and political pressure, to get its way.