Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 6

The Week Just Past: Ukrainian President Wins New Powers

Russian military advances in Chechnya, the accord between theUkrainian parliament and the Ukrainian president, and the agreementbetween Yeltsin and the Duma on the terms for this year’s parliamentaryelections dominated the news last week.

After three days of heavy fighting, Russian forces took the Chechenstronghold of Vedeno on June 4. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayevsaid he would continue the fight, but Moscow said that Chechenresistance was crumbling. By mid-week, there was a lull in thefighting as Russian forces prepared to make an assault into theChechen-held mountains. The death toll rose on both sides, infuriatingthe Chechens and leading ever more Russians to question Moscow’spolicies there. Moscow officials charged that Turkey and the AzerbaijanPeople’s Front were providing the Chechens with arms and pledgedto block Chechnya’s border with Georgia. The commander of Russianborder guards visited Tbilisi to make arrangements but the borderremains porous, and some Chechens have gone to Abkhazia, Ingushetiyaand Daghestan to recruit new fighters. Moscow continued to suggestthat conditions in Chechnya were returning to normal, but thefacts suggested otherwise: there has been an outbreak of cholerathere, and most of the republic’s industrial base is still notoperational. Meanwhile, there was no further word about the fateof Fred Cuny, the American aid specialist who has been missingin Chechnya since April 9.

A constitutional crisis was resolved in Ukraine when the country’sparliament agreed to grant President Leonid Kuchma expanded powersto appoint ministers and issue decrees in exchange for his willingnessto drop plans to hold a June 28 referendum on popular supportfor the parliament and president and his agreement to begin negotiationson a new constitution. Kuchma quickly used his new powers to appointYevhen Marchuk, 54, a popular crime fighter as his prime minister.The accord does not necessarily solve all problems, however. Discussionson the constitution will both highlight and exacerbate differencesbetween those who believe in parliamentary supremacy and thosewho think that only enhanced presidential power can lead to economicreforms. On June 9, Kuchma traveled to Sochi to meet with Russianpresident Yeltsin on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet.

And in Moscow, Yeltsin and the Duma finally agreed on the lawregulating parliamentary elections in Russia later this year.Yeltsin conceded to the parliament a 50-50 split between memberselected on party lists and those chosen in single-member districtsin exchange for the parliament’s agreement to reduce the numberof Moscow-based politicians who can run for office. The exchangeleaves Yeltsin in a strengthened position: his allies in PrimeMinister Chernomyrdin’s "Russia is Our Home" bloc candominate local elections, and most of the liberal opposition tothe president is based in the Russian capital. As a result, thenext parliament may be far more pliable than the current one.But ever more groups are entering the political fray, and it cannotbe excluded that the continuing difficulties in the economy ormore Russian deaths in ethnic conflicts like Chechnya may generatemore support for the opposition. One potential leader of suchresentments is Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, the controversial commanderof the 14th Russian Army in Moldova’s Transdniestr region. Yeltsinput off a decision this week on whether to accept the general’sresignation–which could allow Lebed to enter the political fray–oraccept it–and shore up his own backing in the defense ministry.

Other stories from the region that are likely to reverberatein the future included:

–A Presidential aide threatened to impose economic sanctionson Estonia and Latvia in the name of defending the rights of ethnicRussians living in those countries. This threat came as Moscowpapers conceded that Russian banks had played a key role in thecollapse of one of Latvia’s largest banks, a collapse that hassent tremors throughout the banking system in the Baltic regionand undermined confidence in the Latvian government.

–Russian commanders have announced new rules of engagement forpeacekeeping forces in Tajikistan. Now the CIS peacekeepers willbe allowed to shoot without warning. But over the week, ever moreRussian papers and politicians criticized Moscow’s involvementin that war.

–Russian newspapers continued to go out of business leavingever more Russians dependent on government-controlled televisionand radio for their news. In the three years since the end ofthe USSR, more than half of the country’s 23,000 papers have closedas the result of government harassment and rising paper prices.

–Moscow threatened a veto at the UN over NATO plans to createa rapid deployment force to protect UN peacekeepers in Bosniabut then backed down when it became obvious that the Western powersdid not intend to use this force to change the balance of powerin the former Yugoslav republic.

–Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko shocked his countrymenby proposing Soviet-style economic reforms–state-ordered pricecontrols and prosecution for managers who allow their firms togo bankrupt. Such policies will make it impossible for Belarusto conform to conditions in the Russian economy and thus makeit likely that Lukashenko will either have to back down or facemounting Russian opposition to any closer ties with his country.