Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 13

Yeltsin’s Stunning Victory

by Gleb Cherkassov

For most observers, the results of the presidential electionswere no surprise: Boris Yeltsin won, defeating decisively, theopposition leader, Gennady Zyuganov. But if a detached observerhad fallen into a deep sleep sometime in January and had awakenedon July 4th, his amazement would have been boundless. In fact,at the beginning of the campaign, there was little reason to expecta Yeltsin victory. The chances of the Communists, who had justwon the parliamentary elections, were at their peak.

KPRF representatives are inclined to explain away their loss bysaying that the Russia’s entire state machine was thrown intothe battle against them; that the mass media, especially the electronicmedia, worked for Boris Yeltsin alone, and that three-quartersof the country’s most popular actors and musicians also supportedhim. And Gennady Zyuganov and his supporters have noted more thanonce that Boris Yeltsin violated the election law on numerousoccasions and that his campaign spending exceeded that of hisopponents by several orders of magnitude. Clearly there is sometruth to this: the gap in financial, administrative, and informationresources certainly played a role in ensuring the Communists’defeat but this was not the fundamental reason for Boris Yeltsin’sstunning success.

In the five months before the election, the president and histeam achieved a miracle and convinced a majority of the peopleto vote for Boris Yeltsin. The majority of the voters did notwant to vote for the Communists, and the campaign’s tactical successflowed from its ability to persuade people that the electionscame down to a choice between the Communist Gennady Zyuganov andthe non-Communist Boris Yeltsin. At the same time, the oppositionleader’s team, which, at the beginning of the campaign, had setitself the task of attracting a broad range of non-Communist voterswho were anti-Yeltsin, proved unable to do so and subsequentlyabandoned the so-called "center" to his rivals. TheKPRF was unable to go beyond the bounds of the Communist and oppositionelectorate, in large part, because it did not renounce Communistvalues until the very last weeks of the election marathon. Atthe same time, the president "borrowed" the slogansof all political camps, except for those of the radical Communistsand chauvinists, trying to please all of the voters at once. Aswe see, for the most part, he succeeded.

The president succeeded in getting votes both in regions whichhad traditionally been considered democratic strongholds (thebig cities, cities with a population of a million or more, theUrals, the northern oblasts) and in places where the Communistsand Zhirinovsky’s supporters significantly outpolled the democrats(Vologda, Ivanovo, eastern and western Siberia). Even in the so-called"red belt" oblasts, Boris Yeltsin got no less than 20to 25 percent of the vote. At the same time, his opponent, afterpicking up the votes that he was supposed to get, failed miserablyin the large cities.

The personnel reshuffling which Boris Yeltsin conducted in hisentourage and in the government also played a role. At the beginningof the campaign, Yeltsin fired politicians who were consideredto be representatives of the "democratic" wing: ForeignMinister Andrei Kozyrev, presidential Chief of AdministrationSergei Filatov, and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais(incidentally, the last two actively participated in their patron’selection campaign). At the end of the campaign, it was the supportersof a hard line who had to leave the government. After the dramaticevents of the night of June 19-20 (the arrest of two workers atYeltsin’s campaign headquarters by members of the special services),the president fired First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets,who was considered to be the patron of the military-industrialcomplex, Mikhail Barsukov, the director of the Federal SecurityService, and his old friend Aleksandr Korzhakov, the head of thePresidential Security Service. Shortly before that, the luck ofMinister of Defense Pavel Grachev, whose removal had been demandedsince the very beginning of the war in Chechnya, finally ran out.At the same time, the president decided on a bold step, and, afterthe first round’s results were announced, offered his former rivalAleksandr Lebed, who finished third in the elections, the postof secretary of the Security Council.

At first glance, this alliance looks as if it had been plannedand put into effect for the sole purpose of winning over thosewho voted for Lebed, but the result exceeded all expectations.In fact, by attracting a politician who was known for making bitingopposition speeches, and who had a reputation for being an independentand uncompromising man, the president let it be known that hewas ready to make serious corrections in the course of reforms,that he was ready to surround himself with serious people, ashe had been at the dawn of his political career. With "onestroke of the sword," the president achieved something whichhe could not have achieved in months of vigorous campaigning –he reminded the voters of himself, five years before (it is scarcelynecessary to remind the reader how popular Boris Yeltsin was in1991).

All this brought Yeltsin a victory in the presidential electionscomparable only to his first presidential election victory in1991, the suppression of the August coup, or his victory in theApril 1993 referendum. On July 4th, the president’s supportershad every right to rejoice, as they had in 1991 and 1993. Butat that time, the celebrations dragged on too long and ended badly:the first time, in an acute economic crisis, from which Russiacould emerge only with the help of Yegor Gaidar’s shock therapy,and the second time, in a constitutional crisis which ended ina shoot-out in the center of Moscow.

This time, the picture looks completely different. The victorywas celebrated in an extremely modest way, virtually confinedto the night of the vote count. On the very next day, Boris Yeltsinordered Viktor Chernomyrdin to start forming a new government.It cannot be ruled out that the prime minister’s candidacy willbe brought up for confirmation by the State Duma two or threedays after the president’s inauguration, which is scheduled forAugust 9th. The only thing preventing the government from introducingthe 1997 draft federal budget in the lower house is the fact thatChernomyrdin has not yet formed a new cabinet. This situationis characteristic not only of the cabinet but of all the otherstate structures as well.

The refusal to stage prolonged and lavish celebrations is notdue to Russian politicians suddenly becoming workaholics who shunworldly pleasures. This laudable self-limitation is inspired bythe fact that the situation in the country is close to critical.Not only members of the opposition, but even people close to rulingcircles are saying this now.

The cost of the election campaign, according to the most preliminaryestimates, totaled approximately 2.5 trillion rubles. And if youtake into account that the president was constantly giving outmoney to factories during the campaign, while the government wastrying to pay off its back wages to all employees of state-runenterprises, it is not surprising that Russia’s current financialsituation is extremely grave. One must not forget that tax collectionhas dropped sharply over the last six months — and both stateenterprises and private commercial structures are hoarding theirmoney in case dramatic political changes occur. Viktor Chernomyrdin’sgovernment has to solve these and many other problems very quickly,or a financial catastrophe will deprive Boris Yeltsin of the fruitsof his victory in the presidential elections.

Likewise, the situation in the force structures cannot be calledvery good. After the removal of Pavel Grachev and the purge ofthe leadership of the Ministry of Defense, facts have come tolight about the horrible corruption which reigned in the RussianDefense Ministry. If we are to believe the statements of [Gen.]Lev Rokhlin, the chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,all the highest-ranking military leaders have had their handsin the till. Obviously the army needs a new minister of defensewho is not only able to put an end to these abuses but will alsobegin real military reform. Security Council secretary AleksandrLebed thinks that Igor Rodionov, the rector of the General StaffAcademy, could be that man, but Boris Yeltsin is in no hurry toheed the recommendations of this "new recruit" to Kremlincircles. This is understandable. The president is interested inseeing to it that the new minister of defense is a man who isloyal to him. The same thing holds true for the FSB.

The presidential elections have split the country in two. Thissplit is not just a split along lines of political principle.A number of regions, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg,Nizhny Novgorod, Chelyabinsk, and Perm supported the presidentalmost without reservation, while Tambov, Bryansk, the Altai,and the agricultural regions of southern Russia just as decisivelyexpressed their lack of confidence in the government. This regionalelection split has led some observers to speak of a confrontationbetween Russia’s north and south. This situation has to worrythe Russian government, especially since local elections are scheduledfor the fall, including gubernatorial elections in 11 regions.The situation is complicated by the fact that most of these regionsare in the so-called "red belt" and it will be veryhard to keep Boris Yeltsin’s appointees in their posts there.It cannot be ruled out that in some regions, the current governors(the overwhelming majority of whom supported the president) willbe replaced by members of the opposition. For example, ex-vicepresident Aleksandr Rutskoi will run for the post of governorof the Kursk oblast, and many observers think he has a very goodchance to win.

But the opposition, led by Gennady Zyuganov, also faces a verydifficult choice. On the one hand, defeat in the elections forcesthem to change their tactics, but the direction of the changeis not yet clear: they will either become irreconcilable in theirpositions, and reject any form of cooperation with Yeltsin, orthey will try to enter the government. The first option is supportedby activists of the KPRF and other opposition organizations. Butthis runs the risk of "marginalizing" the party. Thesecond option, on the other hand, runs the risk of splitting theparty, but at the same time gives the KPRF leadership a chanceto become part of the Russian political elite.

Gennady Zyuganov and his entourage are looking for a third way.On one hand, it is almost guaranteed that the KPRF will not sendits representatives into Viktor Chernomyrdin’s government (which,by the way, they have not been invited to join). But the KPRFfraction will most likely vote to confirm his nomination. At thesame time, the Communists have begun to form a national-patrioticmovement on the basis of their election coalition, which willtake active part in the local elections. In addition, Zyuganovis beginning to form a "shadow cabinet" which the Communistsintend to make into an intellectual counterweight to the existingcabinet. Thus, the Communists have begun preparing for the nextpresidential elections.

This means that the end of the presidential election campaignin no way means that the political crisis in Russia is over. Thefall of 1996 will be no less "hot" then the spring.

Gleb Cherkassov is a political correspondent for "Segodnya."