The wave of terror sweeping across Russia has left 300 dead in the past three weeks, in Moscow, Buinaksk, Volgodonsk, Chelyabinsk and Primorsky krai. The toll would be higher, but in Moscow, Bratsk, Gus-Khrustalny and Tver, authorities found caches of explosives and rendered them harmless.
Though very little evidence has been made public, virtually all political figures say the bombs are the work of Chechen terrorists, followers of the warlords who seek an independent state or states in the northern Caucasus. A nationwide sweep by the Interior Ministry detained 11,000 persons, a great many of them Chechens and other Caucasians. Thus far, though, the sweep has picked up only two people wanted in connection with the bombings.
President Boris Yeltsin in a nationally televised address said terrorists “have declared war on the Russian people.” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a special session of the Duma that the 1996 peace accords with Chechnya are dead. A renewal of the war in Chechnya seems imminent and inevitable.
In rumor-choked Moscow, many believe that Boris Berezovsky and other Kremlin insiders–call them morelords–are somehow complicit in the bombings. They stand to gain, the rumors say, from political destabilization, which allows them to prolong their power. In one scenario, the bombings and the war in Dagestan provide a pretext for a state of emergency, under which elections–December’s parliamentary elections and presidential elections next June–would be canceled and the present regime extended in power. In another scenario, President Yeltsin resigns, making Prime Minister Putin acting president and forcing presidential elections within ninety days.
Members of parliament are staking out their positions. In the Duma, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said a state of emergency would make sense only if the country had strong leadership, which it does not today. Centrist Vladimir Ryzhkov, democrat Grigory Yavlinsky and right-wing parliamentarian Sergei Yushenkov warned the Kremlin against measures to prolong the Yeltsin presidency but backed a state of emergency for Dagestan and the Caucasus. Konstantin Borovoi, a radical democrat, said the “special services” have a hand in the bombings, because “total instability” suits them. Not-so-neo fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky went further and called for the arrest of Berezovsky and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Berezovsky’s reputed choice for president.In the Federation Council, where regional leaders sit as parliament’s upper house, the governors of St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk spoke out against a state of emergency, the governor of Samara said he has “no problems” with the idea and Council President Yegor Stroev hinted that Yeltsin should resign.
Under the constitution, the Federation Council must approve a presidential declaration of emergency before it takes effect. That seems most unlikely, as does President Yeltsin’s resignation. But there is no denying the political tension in Moscow, the expectation that some shock to the system is about to occur.
Chechen warlords and Kremlin morelords came close to undoing the Russian state during the first war in Chechnya in 1994-1996. As John Dunlop of Stanford recounts in a recent paper, citing contemporary accounts in the Russian press, Russia lost that war because the money appropriated to fight it-on the order of $6 billion over two years-was stolen. Dunlop writes: “The vast sums ‘sent’ to Chechnya were in fact plundered by [First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg] Soskovets and his allies, and by favored banks, such as Menatep,” which also figures prominently in the Bank of New York money laundering scandal, the manipulation of the market for short-term government securities (GKOs), and the bilking of BP-Amoco by Yukos Oil. Dunlop adds: “Yeltsin’s sinking popularity during the… war with Chechnya made him vulnerable to manipulation by tycoon Boris Berezovsky and other oligarchs, who used the president’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, as a helpful go-between.” On the eve of a second war with Chechnya, the degradation of the Russian state accelerates.