Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 145

The open letter to the Russian government to rethink its policy toward Chechnya, issued this week by four leading Russian politicians, is attracting wide attention in the Russian media. Many newspapers speculate that the “alliance of the four” represents the germ of a new political bloc.

The four signatories were former premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky. All four have been actively involved in policymaking toward Chechnya in the past. This week, they called on the government to formulate and implement a clear policy toward Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a whole. They did not explain what this policy should be, other than to warn that “there can be no return to the mid-1990s [when Russia invaded Chechnya].” But, the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests, the four are “unlikely to restrict themselves to writing letters.” Their initiative could, the paper says, engender a new political bloc aimed at the Russian presidential elections in the year 2000. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 28) Nezavisimaya is not the only paper to raise this possibility. That it is financed by Berezovsky, however, gives its views special weight.

That the “letter of the four” might indeed develop into a more permanent coalition seems all the more likely in view of the immediate effort to downplay its significance by Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov. Ayatskov, who never passes up an opportunity for a sound-bite, told journalists yesterday it would be “premature” to read an emerging political alliance into the letter. “You can’t mate a hedgehog, a snake, a rhinoceros and a parrot,” he declared. (RTR, July 28) The fact is–as Ayatskov knows very well–that everything in Russian politics now has to be viewed against the backdrop of both the 1999 parliamentary and the 2000 presidential elections. Ayatskov knows this since he is himself a member of another emerging and potentially competing alliance. (See story below)