Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 4

The Week Ahead: The Russian military will continue to fight even if the Chechens begin to talk peace

The war in Chechnya, fall out from the CIS summit in Minsk, andcontinued squabbling in Moscow and the regions about how, andeven whether, Russia will hold parliamentary elections are likelyto be the major news stories next week.

Regardless of whether the Chechens and Russians meet for peacetalks–and some sessions are likely although perhaps in a militaryrather than diplomatic setting–the war is likely to go on. Russianswill lose ever more men as they move into the mountains, wherethe Chechens have an advantage. In response, Russian attacks thereand throughout Chechnya are likely to increase both in numberand ferocity. As a result, death tolls on both sides will probablyrise to levels not seen since January and February when the Russianarmy destroyed the city of Grozny. More Russian groups in Moscoware likely to speak out against the war as its costs increase,possibly taking to the streets in demonstrations, as the SoldiersMothers group did last week. And more Russian officials and someadditional Western statesmen are likely to press Yeltsin to endthe attacks; they won’t be successful this week, but the addedpressure may force Yeltsin to adopt a new and more forthcomingattitude in his public statements.

The impact of Yeltsin’s veto of the election bill will also reverberatethroughout Russia next week. The veto increases uncertaintiesthroughout the political system, undermines confidence in allpoliticians, and probably eliminates any chance that the two Yeltsin-organizedelectoral "power" blocs will be able to dominate thevote if it is held. Polls showed that most Russians would votefor other groups or for no one at all, thus raising the specterof an election where fraud may count for even more than it didin the past. And in this situation, extremists on the left andthe right are certain to make their voices heard, and to attractmore attention, as the so-called center around Yeltsin demonstratesthat it is unwilling to abide by democratic rules or the game,or to face the voters.

But the most dramatic events are likely to take place outsideRussia. The CIS summit, which will fail to reach general agreementon a new economic union or on a common border system, will onlyspark more countries to follow the examples of Ukraine, Kazakhstan,Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. As a result, Moscow’s assumption thatit could act as if Belarus was the bellwether of the future seemscertain to backfire, at least in the short-run. Moscow is likelyto respond with tougher rhetoric and possibly other pressures,not only in the Caucasus where it dominates the situation, butin the Baltic countries–which are not part of the CIS and seemintent on helping others to leave that organization–and evenin Ukraine. That will put to the test the recent American statementssupporting Kiev.

Other events to watch:

–Will Moscow sign a Partnership for Peace agreement before May31 and at what cost?

–Will the May 28 voting in the Gagauz region of Moldova–thefirst new ethnic autonomous formation in Europe since 1945–contributeto stability, as Kishinev hopes, or lead to greater secessionistpressures?

–How will the Crimean authorities react to Kiev’s ultimatum?And what will the Ukrainian government be willing to do to backup the threats of its parliament?

–Will Latvia be able to manage its bank crisis? Or will bothMoscow and local criminal elements exploit it to destabilize thegovernment of Prime Minister Maris Gailis?

–Will there be progress in the talks between the Tajik governmentand the Tajik opposition? Or will the talks break off withoutany agreement sparking more fighting and the existence of Kazakhand Uzbek peacekeepers? And if the latter countries withdraw theirsoldiers, what will Russian public reaction be to Moscow’s goingit alone there?