Chechen crisis and Russian political change. Toronto Globe & mail. 1995

             CHECHEN CRISIS AND RUSSIAN POLITICAL CHANGE 

                 Harvest time has inevitably arrived

                                                            *

        /view on causes and consequences by OLEG G.RUMIANTSEV/

     The most crucial part of the Chechen crisis seems to be over. The

evaluation of it in press often been articulated in "black  or  white"

terms. The reality of the situation, however, is much more complicated

and deserves much deeper analysis and scrutiny.

     De-jure the  operation  was  correct.  De-facto  -   clumsy   and

outrageous.  Politically it has the key meaning in a general change of

Russian politics with some deep long-term effects on it.  It played  a

role  of a principal "pass" of Kremlin to the "new right" - the shift,

which I find to be intergral for the developments of last years.

                  AUTHORITARIANISM IN LAW

     The Chechen  crisis demonstrated the potential of present Russian

authoritarianism.  It was established not today. Former Prime Minister

Egor  Gaidar  and  other  radical  liberals inform the bewildered West

about the possibility of a military take-over and threat to democratic

institution.

     But Russia already lives under the authoritarian rule for over  a

year:  during  the Yeltsin-Gaidar coup in Autumn 1993 the Constitution

was  denounced,  its  defenders  -   riddled   by   tank-shells,   the

Constitutional  Court  and  regional  legislatures  were  suspended or

dispersed.  Yeltsin legalised  his  regime  wby  taking  the  formally

democratic Constitution (on larger part of which we worked together in

1990-1992) and changing the heart of it,  the form of  government,  to

one without checkes and balances, tailored personally for the abnormal

apetites and the ambitions of one politician.

     The present   abuse  of  power  thus  is  legal,  based  both  on

acknowledged precedent  of 1993 coup,  and on the altered constitution

that followed.

     The President is Commander-in-chief, chooses the Defense minister

without Parliamentary  approval,  personally  (!)  adopts  a  military

doctrine  of  Russia in a form of by-law edict and orders that nj bill

on defense must contradict his doctrine.  There is  no  constitutional

provisions   on   the   state   of   emergency.   Narodovlastie  -  or

representative democracy  is  powerless.  Civilian  control  over  the

executive  and  the  "power"  services  is impossible.  Crude force is

becoming the usual instrument for solving arguments with opponents.

     So, one must conclude  that  the  romantic  era  of  our  earnest

attempts to fix the miracle of constitutionalism  in  Russia  is  over.

     There is  an  obvious  lack  of  imagination  in  Kremlin  today.

Chechnya is a piece of different civilisation within  Russia,  dealing

with it needs a large knowledge of the Art of politics,  which Kremlin

doesn't prove that it posesses with. Both sides showed themselves as a

poor  strategists  and bad tacticians.  The death-toll number is much;

much lower than during  the  Gulf-war,  but  still  Russia  must  have

avoided it.

               THE "NEW RIGHT" OF THE KREMLIN

     The Chechen operation was  -  as  any  war  -  a  "locomotive  of

history"  that  hastened  the  regrouping  of  the political forces in

Russia as  it  moves  toward  the  1995  Parliamentary  and  the  1996

Presidential elections.  The move in Chechnya ended a 3 year honeymoon

between radical liberals and Yeltsin.

     The opposition  to  Eltsin  was demolished in 1993 because of his

and near-by  elits'  unwilingness  of  any  public  control  over  the

privatisation, finance, domestic and and foreign policy. In 1993 I was

pressed out of his closest entourage just for trying to  insist,  that

no  state  mechanism  can  operate  effectively without brakes and for

promoting a "progressive and socially oriented conservatism".

     Now my former boss will try to play this role himself  and  avoid

repeating  some  gloomy achievments of recent "radical reform" period.

This itself would not be bad for  Russia.  Unfortunately,  NOBODY  can

tell You how far will he go.

     Today the Kremlin not only assumes all of the  rhetorics  of  the

traditionalist  opposition,  it  is  an  undeclared leader of the "new

right" as head of Bonapartist  party  of  power.

     According to  opinion  polls  from  29.01.95  Eltsin  is  totally

trusted only by 8%  and partly - by another 13%. But 72% of questioned

do not trust a  man,  who  is  posessing  an  enormous  authority  and

possibilities.  So, he needs a new alliances. The undeclared block may

be under creation right now - between power-hungry  new  nomenklatura,

silently    returning    Communists   and   with   talented   populist

Zhirinovskij's party - the  largest  in  today's  State  Duma  and  in

electorate.

                      KEY CONSEQUENCES

     First of  all,  Russia  nearly inevitably will soon be facing the

vast military reform. Poor results on a level of personel training and

conduct, arms, tactics will be considered seriously. In the late 1980s

the Soviet Army seemed to be a hesitant victim of liberal opinions and

couldn't  accomplish its tasks.  It was the clearest sign that a state

itself is ill and weak and preceded the death of its institutions.

     This may reshape the concept of federal budget for 1996.  If  the

West will not provide the promissed loan package, ehxousted transition

to a market may be coopted by a strong regulative role for the state.

     The crisis in Army only reflected the general  crisis  of  social

consiousness of the nation,  lack of spirit, collapse of common shared

values and ideals.  This may bring new changes in the sphere  of  mass

media - mainly,  state television and radio broadcasts, as well in the

sphere of education.  Unrestricted political freedoms  also  may  fall

soon.

     I am  quite  sure  of  a  coming  vast  personal  changes  in the

Presidential entourage,  Eltsin's Administration,  Council of Security

and  the Government.  Eltsin is looking for a reliable partners in his

new manouvere.  Among them later he will (in old style) decide  -  who

will be his successor and whow will the state ensure the transition of

power.

     Decisive change may  come  in  Kremlin  relations  with  4  major

counterparts - domestic elits, inner autonomies and regions, republics

of "near abroad" and the partners from the "far abroad".  The  general

tightening  of  Russian  position  will  be  taken by the Eltsin's new

"party of  state  and  order" in order to avoid the fragile destiny of

the USSR.

                    THE ROLE OF THE WEST

     The West,  in  my opinion,  is partly responsible for the Russian

change.  I still remember my colleagues from the Western democracies -

constitutionalists   and   parlamentarians  -  joyfully  greeting  the

demolition of the legal institutions in 1993. Russian authoritarianism

was  reestablished  with  participation  from  domestic  radicals with

applauses from the West.

     Harvest time has inevitably arrived.

     The sometimes humiliating method of "big brother", assumed by the

West  in  its  relations with Russia,  and agressive calls coming from

G.O.P. in Capitol Hill right now may soon provide more egoistic policy

of Moscow, based on national interests.

     I would urge against hasty actions of  condemnation.  Nodody  can

stop  the  pendulum.  But  for most of Russians even the cold peace is

much beter than the cold war.  Politicians may decide  -  who  is  the

new influentive  and  positive  alternative  to deal with.  And public

opinion may be on alert and be ready to  raise  their  voices  if  the

remnants of rule of law are frozen in Russia.

     */ Dr.O.Rumiantsev  is  a Constitutional Law Consultant

to The State Duma of Russian  Federal  Assembly.  He  was  a

Member  of  Russian Parliament and a deputy to Boris Yeltsin

in a Constitutional Commission in 1990-1993.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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