Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 7

The Week Ahead: Using this incident, Yeltsin will disarm Western critics and press Russia’s case at G-7

Resolving the Chechen hostage crisis in Budennovsk, pressingMoscow’s case at the G-7 meetings in Halifax, and fighting offDuma plans to hold a no confidence vote on Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin are likely to be the main stories in the week ahead.

Moscow has no good options in ending the Chechen hostage taking.If it uses force, many of the hostages will die, more Chechenterrorist actions will occur, and the political and diplomaticadvantages that the hostage-taking has given Moscow will be lost.Moreover such an attack could lead to the dismissal of defenseminister Pavel Grachev, who has been pushing for the use of forceagainst the hostage takers. If it does not use force, the Chechenswill hold on, domestic Russian criticism of Moscow’s handlingof the six-month-old war will increase, and some in the West willrecall the brutal Russian actions against the Chechens that precededthe nonetheless unforgiveable Chechen seizure of hostages. Moscowis likely to continue to talk with the Chechens holding the hostagesand to try to capture or at least convince Chechen president Dudayevthat he should try to order the hostages released. That too isan uncertain strategy: it is not clear that Dudayev would be obeyed,and it is certain that he would seek to use any assistance hemight give on this point to demand concessions from the Russianside.

Convinced that Budennovsk will prevent any Western leader fromchallenging him on Chechnya, Boris Yeltsin is likely to take atough line at the G-7 in advancing Russian demands to be admittedto that organization. At least some Western leaders are likelyto support him either out of concern that they have been somehowwrong about Russian involvement in Chechnya or that their recentovertures to Ukraine, the Baltic states, and other eastern Europeancountries need to be balanced by a concession to Moscow. Moreover,Russian diplomats are likely to continue to step up their currentcampaign to restore Russian influence throughout the world witha series of steps many in the West may not like but will be unwillingor unable to oppose.

Also next week, the Duma will take up a motion of no confidencein the Chernomyrdin government. There is no danger that the Dumawill actually pass the measure, but the discussions on that andon the stewardship of Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrevthat are also supposed to take place will be occasions for moreattacks on Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin and their team. Yeltsin undoubtedlywill try to wrap himself in the flag given the events in Budennovsk,but that will not be enough to silence the critics.

Other developments in the region likely next week include:

–Yeltsin will convene a congress of youth organizations April23 that by its stated goals looks very much like the old Soviet-eraKomsomol organization. The 1000 delegates are expected to pledgeto defend the president against any challengers who would "repeatthe mistakes of their predecessors," congress documents releasedthis week suggest.

–The prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine will meet mid-weekto try to make more progress on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet.Their session comes amidst criticism in both Moscow and Kiev thatthe Yeltsin-Kuchma summit in Sochi June 9 resolved nothing orresulted in concessions by one side that the other was not preparedto accept.

–Belarus remains locked in a constitutional crisis: the oldparliament has not yet been willing to accede to President AleksandrLukashenko’s request to lower the quorum requirements for thenew one, and the new one cannot be seated unless it does. Andever more Belarusian officials are likely to speak out againstLukashenko’s radical populist agenda, a set of ideas that wouldalmost certainly guarantee economic collapse and prevent any integrationwith Russia any time soon.

–The trial of Dro activists will begin in Armenia. PresidentLevon Ter-Petrosyan argues that the Dro group is the terroristarm of the opposition Dashnak party; the opposition counters thatTer-Petrosyan is seeking to use a trumped up case to solidifyhis hold on power. The trial will exacerbate feelings on bothsides as the two head toward July 5 parliamentary elections.

–Because the July 15-16 Helsinki round of OSCE-sponsored talkson Karabakh is unlikely to make any progress, there may be moreviolence along the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire line. The year-oldceasefire has never been complete, and nationalists on both sidesmay take advantage of the mounting frustration to launch new attacks.