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COMMENTARY No. 69

a CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE publication


RUSSIA: WHAT KIND OF FUTURE?

Conrad Namiesniowski

Fall 1996

Unclassified

Editors Note:


Conrad Namiesniowski is a Strategic Analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. In this Commentary, he examines the prospects for democracy in Russia in the wake of the recent elections in that country and the continuing uncertainty surrounding the health of the Russian President.

Disclaimer: Publication of an article in the COMMENTARY series does not imply CSIS authentication of the information nor CSIS endorsement of the author's views.


"With great labour I build that shining temple, that mighty power, that new, reasonable Russia." - A.K. Tolstoy

History is not wanting for examples of Russian (and Soviet) autocrats thwarted in their efforts to modernize their country. Attempts to change the seemingly unchangeable invariably came from the top and seldom from the grass roots. Disturbances at that level were ruthlessly dealt with, for action from below was seen as a threat to leadership. For a number of reasons—ingrained opposition, self servitude, mismanagement, to name but a few—change from the top seldom achieved the intended results. Top-down innovation was often sabotaged by vested interests or nullified by impersonal systemic pressures. Sometimes those responsible for failing to achieve attempted changes were removed and punished.

To a large extent the attributes of this model of change from the top—frenetic promotion of new ideas, succumbing to those opposed to change, retirement / elimination of those responsible for the idea's apparent failure, and constant power struggle—is still discernable in today's Russia.

Despite a facade of ingrained immobility and inertia, however, change does occur in Russia, but it occurs in a "Russian way". It was Khrushchev who first began the dismantling of the USSR on 25 February 1956. In a secret report to the closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he denounced the "personality cult" of Stalin and the crimes committed by the wartime Soviet leader. In so doing, he sowed a cancer of doubt about the integrity of the Communist system. It took another 35 years and four leaders, each of whom claimed to know "the right path" to make Communism work, before the USSR simply disintegrated, clearing the way for Russia to come to grips with the novelties of free elections and free speech.

These and other changes that followed the demise of the Soviet Union and gave birth to the fragile democratic process still taking hold in the Russian Federation continue to originate mainly with the technocrats and leadership elite, not with the proletariat. It is therefore no surprise that the transition process to democratic institutions has been chaotic and under challenge—primarily from those who have suffered the most from change, workers, pensioners and the old. Enough voters oppose reform to have prompted the Communist and the nationalist candidates to the 16 June presidential elections to propose reconstitution of the USSR as a key plank in their political platforms.

Deep unhappiness with government policies, reflected in the results of the December 1995 elections which returned the Communists as a lead parliamentary party, are indicative of the changes that are likely to follow the re-election of President Yeltsin. There was a considerable convergence between the positions of the lead candidates in a number of domestic and foreign policy areas in the run-up to the election in a bid to capture a greater share of the popular vote. This convergence will be expected to be taken into account in the government's future approach to reform policy.

The recently completed presidential elections are one of the most important national events for Russia at the end of a century of climactic Russian national events. The elections will be seen to have set the direction of change in Russia—be it evolutionary advancement, a consolidation of gains or a backward step to some form of adversarial autocracy—for some time to come.

The issue is hardly academic. How Russia changes will determine in large measure the future of the former republics of the Soviet Union which are still struggling to become sovereign states. For a number of reasons - inexperience in civil governance, backwardness and inability to overcome economic dependency on Russia as well as structural impediments to reform - these "democracies-in-progress" are finding it increasingly difficult to make it on their own.

President Yeltsin's new term policies will also determine whether Russia will be a cooperative or confrontational partner in Europe and the wider international forum; it will set the pattern and prospects for Moscow's future relations with the Central and East European states, NATO, as well as—farther afield—Asia and the Middle East.

Who is Responsible for the Present Disorder?

Russia hailed the 20th Century by launching the Revolution of 1905. It is about to greet the new millennium by forging a new internal order to replace the guiding light of Communism which it extinguished in 1991 after watching it burn for over 75 years. The transition from one to the other—witnessed over the past decade by a fascinated world—has thus far embraced two phases: the destruction of a system built on ideology; and the uncertain experimenting with idealized forms of economy and government by persons equipped with incomplete and often absurd notions of a market-based democracy.

These two phases are coming to an end and are about to be replaced by a third: one based on rational analysis of what can reasonably work in a country diverse in demographics, climate, and natural resources; a society that functions between extremes of advanced technological knowledge and Third World standards where, in some parts, access to potable water is by no means guaranteed.

The destruction of the old Soviet Union and the transition to a new Russia have been directly influenced and overseen by two men, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, both products of the communist system. It would be unfair to say that Gorbachev and Yeltsin are solely responsible for the social revolution and chaos that thus far mark the Russian metamorphosis. They inherited a system already imploding of its own accord.

The Soviet Union had been disintegrating for a long time due to years of mismanagement and corruption. The communist system became obsessed with trying to regulate every aspect of the state and to control every detail of a citizen's life. To ensure internal and external security it employed coercive domestic security measures on a massive scale. At the same time as it was trying to insulate itself against foreign influence, it was attempting to support and advance the communist ideology abroad. These requirements led to the maintenance of large security and military forces and a military-industrial complex that in the end became an albatross for the state.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev tried to prolong the life of the Soviet Union for as long as possible. In the face of great odds, he attempted to create a system of restraining balances among the "Combined Conservative Forces of the USSR", the very pillars that underpinned the Soviet state. Like the proverbial tailor, Gorbachev attempted to swat seven flies in one fell swoop, taking on the old "nomenklatura", which still remains ensconced in parts of the bureaucracy today; the military forces of the former Red Army, Navy, Air Force, Air Defence and Strategic troops; the internal border and railway troops; the security services of the former KGB, and its militia; the middle and heavy Soviet industries, including the military-industrial complex; state ownership of land; and a legal system that minimized individual rights and made the state paramount. He lost when his changes challenged the perquisites and privileges of those who belonged to these classes. He could not change a characteristic Russian mind-set imbued with suspicion and conspiracy theories that had endured for centuries.

Glasnost, perestroika and demokratizatsiia were introduced by Gorbachev not because he was a democrat. They were meant to launch reforms designed to modernize the Soviet Union and free it from corruption, nepotism and moribund bureaucratic inefficiency. Above all, they were to keep the Soviet Union united and maintain its position as a superpower and principal player in Europe. The latter was deemed particularly important by the power elites after German unification, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact Organization and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern and Central Europe.

Gorbachev's dream was to lead a rejuvenated and reformed Communist Party that would keep the USSR together. He failed. Unable to effect change in the Communist Party, he tried to strengthen his own position in the hope of imposing his own solutions. He was appointed the first President of the USSR by the Congress of People's Deputies in March 1990. He continued to enlarge his influence until he was granted powers to convert the Soviet economy to a market-based one and to rule by decree for 18 months.

At the end, Gorbachev wielded as much power as Stalin ever had. But it was all to no avail. His clumsy use of force against the dissenting republics of Kazakhstan (1986), Georgia (1989), Azerbaijan (1990), Latvia ( 1991), and Lithuania ( 1991) could not stem ethnic unrest. Gorbachev's 500-day economic reform plan and new union treaty came too late and failed to gain support. Awakened nationalities, a collapsing economy, and Gorbachev's personal antagonists combined to produce an uncontrollable sequence of events and ensure the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was only thanks to his nemesis, Boris Yeltsin, that Gorbachev survived the coup of August 1991. He wisely resigned the presidency in December 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist.

Boris Yeltsin

The August 1991 coup is important for four reasons: it failed; it marked the demise of the old system; it gave birth to the Russia of Boris Yeltsin; and it inserted military force into the politics of the state. (Military force has since been used against parliament in 1993 and against Chechnya in 1994.) Knowing the extent of the KGB's traditional powers and seeing the danger of KGB authority in the August coup, Yeltsin, at best a pseudo-democrat, split that monolith into several component parts (subordinating selected elements to himself): foreign intelligence, security services, border service, communications, protection and presidential security.

Yeltsin's three seminal decisions in December 1991 sealed the destruction of the USSR:

The breakup of the Soviet Union also breached the integrated economic bonds that had linked the former republics. The new Yeltsin-appointed economics minister, and later Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, attempted to dismantle the command economy and move to the market as fast as possible. But the "shock" therapy that had worked so well in Poland was impossible to implement equitably in so large and diverse a country as Russia. For the first time, money acquired real meaning; but the uncertain reforms of the Gorbachev years and the collapse of the integrated Soviet economic sphere caused industrial production to plummet, investment to drop, and inflation to soar, wiping out people's savings. The resulting chaos provided opportunity for those with money to become very rich. Some honest entrepreneurs emerged, but many others chose the criminal way.

Moscow failed to provide an effective safety net for the growing numbers of poor whose living standards dropped and life expectancy fell drastically. By May 1992, the more radical elements of economic shock therapy were abandoned with the re-introduction of subsidization and cheap credits to heavy industry. This slowed industrial closures and unemployment but increased the deficit and raised inflation. By December 1992, Gaidar was out and Victor Chernomyrdin, a communist apparatchik and one of the most successful industrial managers in the country, was appointed Prime Minister.

This first attempt at capitalism failed because, in practical terms, the eradication of the Communist party had not only removed the biggest obstacle to reform, it also removed the ability to make reform work. Without the communist infrastructure, laws could not be enforced, taxes collected, nor crime and corruption controlled, for there were no ready democratic civil service structures or civic laws that could be called upon. As a result, crime and corruption, always present during Soviet times, soared.1

Chernomyrdin has continued reform but at a more measured pace, with an eye to production and employment. Most of the radical features of the Gaidar reforms were slowed, except for privatization which has continued under the reform-minded Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Management Committee, Anatoliy Chubays. Today some 120,000 businesses—50 per cent of the Russian economy—are in private hands.2

The appointment of Chernomyrdin was not enough to prevent gridlock between the President and the Russian Parliament over economic policies. In April 1993, Yeltsin turned to the voters for support, calling a referendum. While the result was more favourable to Yeltsin than had been generally anticipated, it was insufficient in itself to break the grip of Parliament. Still, it gave Yeltsin the authority to press for a new constitution with stronger presidential powers.

Yeltsin also helped to defuse moves to separation and independence with an offer to regional leaders to share in a partnership in a new structure. While regional consensus on the fundamentals of a new political and economic order was elusive Yeltsin did manage to get endorsement for a draft constitution.

Parliament, however, was not cowed and by July was back on the attack, proposing legislation to remove the reform program from Yeltsin's hands with a view to making the president a figurehead. Irreconcilable ideological differences came to a head in September 1993. Yeltsin fought back. Contravening the existing Soviet Constitution, he first dissolved the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of Peoples' Deputies and then called for December elections and a referendum on a new constitution. Parliamentary leaders chose to resist. When their supporters attacked the Mayor's office and the Ostankino television broadcasting centre (after having been provoked, according to some sources), Yeltsin—who by then had declared a state of emergency—used military force against the Russian Parliament building, the so-called White House. The incident set an important precedent for the use of Russian Armed forces in a domestic political context.3

Despite poor voter turnout for both the constitutional referendum and the parliamentary elections, the draft constitution giving the president increased executive powers—notably over foreign policy—was approved in December 1993.4 The results of the parliamentary election, however, warned of voter dissatisfaction with reformist policies. (Though opposition parties had been banned, they were permitted to run in the election.) The reformers of "Russia's Choice"—the party of Yeltsin—still managed to take 70 seats, but Vladimir Zhirinovsky's fascist Liberal Democratic party came a close second with 64 seats and the Communists gained 48.

What has been Achieved

Russia's transformation has occurred at three levels over the past ten years and during that time, for the average Russian onlooker, a positive outcome at any level has seemed far from assured. The transitions from totalitarian dictatorship to pluralistic democracy, from centralized planned economy to decentralized free market, and from global empire to supplicant state have caused confusion, chaos and instability. They have also affected Russians' self identity.

With approximately 100 ethnic strains identifiable in the population and no democratic traditions or values to fall back on, it is a wonder that so much has been achieved without a major civil breakdown. Yet, the country has recorded some major achievements:

Parliamentary Institutions

Lenin's forcible curtailment of legislative institutions and their replacement by centralized communist rule, has meant that throughout their entire lives, virtually the entire Russian population has been deprived of first-hand experience in multi-party parliamentary institutions. All the more reason to marvel at what was accomplished in the area of Russian governance in the short time between the 1991 coup attempt and President Yeltsin's dissolution and subsequent altercation with parliament in September/October 1993. In the face of the powerful traditions of authoritarianism rooted in the Russian psyche, the marked development in the country's parliamentary institutions in that brief time could—if allowed to grow and mature—develop into viable democratic instruments for future governance.

A key instrument to success is the Russian Constitution, a document of 137 articles, which underpins the present political structure. Adopted by nation-wide referendum in December 1993 (some allege the turnout was less than the required minimum to make it legal), it states that the Russian Federation is a "democratic federative rule-of-law state with a republican form of government". It asserts that state power is exercised on the basis of the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers with all organs independent of each other. State power is exercised by the president of Russia, the Federal Assembly (consisting of two chambers, the Federation Council and the State Parliament or Duma) the Government of Russia and the courts. The constitution further: describes responsibilities and powers including regional self-government; embraces ideological diversity; rejects the idea of compulsory state ideology; and defines human and civil rights and freedoms.

Russians elect the president as well as the deputies to the Duma (half from party lists and half from single-member constituencies). Modelled on the US Senate, the Federation Council is composed of governors and parliamentary authorities of the various regions and republics that constitute Russia. Some of the governors have been elected but others were appointed by president Yeltsin. Most are former members of the Soviet nomenklatura and are close to the industrial lobby. All governors are to be elected by the end of January 1997. With the loss of his power to appoint, Yeltsin's support from this quarter could diminish over time.

Since December 1993, the authority of the office of president has steadily gained in importance. Unlike Western democracies, where there are traditional divisions of power between the executive and legislature, the Russian president has tended to rule either by decree, vetoing laws which fail to meet with his approval or through his appointed government with little reference to the elected parliament. The Duma has tried to control these activities with varying degrees of success. For example, the decision to use force in Chechnya was made with no reference to the Duma.

The president, however, has not had his way with the Duma in every case; except for statutes governing in-country sales, Duma members have managed to block the government's annual privatization programme for four years. Further, much to the President's chagrin, the Duma granted an amnesty to the perpetrators of the 1991 coup and members of the 1993 armed standoff at the White House. In retrospect, that particular parliamentary initiative struck a formula for national reconciliation, ending what could have been divisive investigations of those events.

On balance, the three-way relationship that prevailed between December 1993 and December 1995 among the Duma, President and bureaucracy can be assessed as workmanlike, thanks largely to Duma chairman Ivan Rybkin. Much useful legislation passed through both the Duma and the Federation Council, chaired by Yeltsin supporter, Vladimir Shumeyko, and was signed into law by the President. The Duma and Federation Council chairmen both supported the decision to deploy troops to Chechnya—after both were appointed to the Security Council as full voting members.

What's to be Done?

Based on objective Western criteria, Russia today falls far short in every aspect of macro and micro-reform attempted in the last ten years in the areas of democratic governmental reform, free market evolution and the development of strategic concepts of security. This is not to negate the progress that has been achieved or the existing potential for further reform. Still, applying Western criteria, some areas requiring improvement remain. The choice how to proceed will be up to the Russian people. Still, applying Western criteria, some areas requiring improvement remain:

Governance

Parliament

If Russia is to develop into a truly democratic state, it needs to acquire a mature civil society and a principled democratic tradition based on freedom of speech, protected by civil law, and equipped with a decision-making apparatus that is non-arbitrary and transparent. In the absence of such conditions, accountability to the electorate is not possible.

Ten years, however, is hardly enough time to overcome the political traditions of the various elites and power groups that controlled the Soviet-era party, government, and security and defence forces, in other words, the nomenklatura. The same nomenklatura remains in power but under a different label and it still finds the concept of accountability difficult. The pursuit of extreme ideas and policies in nomenklatura circles can be discerned even today.

The immaturity of the Russian political system is evident in the absence of a strong Western-style party system. In fact, among the parties, only the Communists can be said to have a viable organization. The other 43 that competed in the December 1995 elections resemble groups or factions rather than parties; deputies move among them in a manner that would be uncommon in Western parliaments. Intra-party tensions, such as within the Congress of Russian Communities and Russia's Choice, have resulted in long-serving politicians turning their back on their parties and leaving, thus weakening overall political cohesion.

The ability of the executive (President or members of the government) to coopt various legislative factions or groups cannot be discounted and becomes important during presidential elections where "wheeling and dealing" is possible. There are legally formalized and sanctioned links between the Duma factions and the President/Government through various parliamentary committees—e.g. there is no formal contact between the executive and the Russian armed forces or defence ministry except through the Duma Defence Committee—President Yeltsin, has talked with the leaders of all factions.

There is little doubt that the present Russian government will have increasingly to address socio- economic issues, which polls indicate are the top concern of voters in Russia, but strong budgetary pressures will limit government options. Social instability has provided a platform for the communists and nationalists of various hues who blame present social ills on the breakup of the Soviet Union. Unable to agree on most issues both reformists and democrats, generally remain in disarray. Public sensitivity regarding social issues has forced President Yeltsin to drop his lead reformers and to move closer to Communist and Nationalist election platforms. Some of the reformers, however, have resurfaced in different positions, such as the former privatization minister, Anatoliy Chubays, who has become the President's new Chef de Cabinet.

President

President Yeltsin, apparently because of a perceived need to do so, has built up the Presidential Security Service, an administrative system—the renowned apparat of communist governments—which both protects him physically and in many respects acts as a shadow government. Like the security organs, it is accountable to no one but the President. Until his recent dismissal, it was headed by the influential and generally despised Lieutenant General Korzhakov—to some, a modern day Rasputin. His role was a far cry from that of Chef de cabinet in office of a Western head of state or government. The extent that future Russian presidents feel compelled to maintain Yeltsin's apparat will say much about the reform and maturation process of the Russian government.

Understandably, Korzhakov had a vested interest prolonging the status quo and he publicly advocated a delay in the presidential elections. Though possibly no more than a trial policy balloon at the time, public and international reaction was such that Yeltsin distanced himself from Korzhakov's remarks without, however, censuring the statement too harshly. The apparat and the security forces, however, do provide the president in theory with the capability for unilateral action, should he chose to use it, including for his own purposes such as influencing an election outcome.

Social security

Statistical data indicates that the societal instabilities resulting from the political and economic transitions have chiefly affected the old, disabled and unskilled, and pensioners. Russia does not have a comprehensive social safety net able to kick in when plant closures suspend the centralized economy's guarantees of work, housing, health care, recreation and a reasonable standard of living. Today the "common man" is worse off than before while the rich "businessman" becomes wealthier. The gap moreover is widening. Unemployment continues to grow and has been estimated at 8.6 per cent, although official figures list it at 3.8 per cent or 2.77 million jobless. Nevertheless, a shadow economy that is reputed to add 40 per cent to the goods and services sectors appears to be thriving.6 These are problems that any Russian government must address or risk civil unrest.

Economy

In the economic sphere also, adjustments are called for.

State industry

Notwithstanding some economic successes at the macro level, reform has been uneven. Problems related to state-owned industries remain unresolved, causing debt problems and leading to unpaid worker wages.

Foreign investment

Direct foreign investment has been affected by poor physical and business infrastructure, complex financial systems and uncertainty over property rights.

Taxes

Legislation regulating various taxes and property rights has been slow in coming and to date is largely ineffective. Tax evasion is causing a serious shortfall in state income. Corruption and criminal activity have acted as a deterrent to foreign investment.

Implementation of existing legislation

Implementation of various regulations, laws and policy measures already on the books has been ineffectual and a major deterrent to foreign joint ventures.

Organized crime

Societal instabilities have given impetus to organized crime, fraud and corruption. In 1995, 2.75 million crimes were reported of which 1.6 million were classed as serious (with contract killings and murders the worst).7 Lack of adequate funding, including non-payment of police wages and inadequate laws makes it hard to prosecute large criminal conglomerates. A criminal code endorsed by the President on 13 June will go into effect 1 January 1997. Adequate funding and training of police forces is still urgently required.

Need to Develop Strategic Security Thinking

Legislation

Effective legislation on civilian control of the military, an important indicator of a democratic state, is still lacking in Russia. The Draft Law on Defence exempts the President from active parliamentary scrutiny in matters of defence. The Military Doctrine which envisages the participation of Russian military forces in the elimination of internal threats has been ratified by a Presidential decree.8 Therefore, the doctrine has the force of law regardless of parliament. It empowers the President, as commander-in-chief, to act without parliamentary scrutiny. Even if a civilian minister of defence is appointed under this concept, operational control is reserved for the General Staff which is directly responsible to the President. The Chief of the General Staff is appointed by the President and, therefore, is his man.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

Russia's military Doctrine explicitly identifies its security interests as covering all Eurasia. Moscow has used peacekeeping operations to control instability on Russian borders and has limited the intervention of the UN within the CIS (e.g. in Nagorno-Karabakh).

Military Concepts

Very little has changed in Russian military thinking from that of the former USSR, or indeed from that of Tsarist Russia. It is still mired in balance of power concepts rather than cooperative military ventures. This has prevented much-needed reorganization and restructuring in the aftermath of the CFE agreement and removal of Soviet forces from Central and Eastern Europe, including the former East Germany.

In a recent article, Lieutenant General Valeriy Dementyev of the Russian Institute of Defence Research (INOBIS) depicts the former Soviet Union as a zone of vital Russian interest. With the logic of the Mad Hatter quoting from War and Peace, he notes that Russian activity there includes the conduct of two "wars", in Chechnya (part of Russia) and in Tajikistan (a sovereign state) as well as two "peacemaking" operations in two other sovereign states—the deterring of aggression in the Georgian province of Abkhazia in South Ossetia, and in the Moldovan province of Trans-Dniester.

For Dementyev, the USA and NATO are "Russia's basic probable enemies" and NATO is still oriented towards the east; NATO's eastern expansion, he states, is comparable to the prelude to Hitler's invasion of 1941; he claims that one Hungarian airport has "without prior permission" (presumably Russian) been turned into an American base, failing to mention the base is used for logistical support of USA IFOR troops in the former Yugoslavia. Japan is also an enemy in Dementyev's eyes because it is a friend of the USA. Surprisingly, China and Iran are not among Russia's enemies in his books. Much of this could easily be dismissed, were this form of Dementyev thinking not replicated in current Russian foreign policies.

The Russians Say Yes to Yeltsin

On 3 July 1996, Russian President Boris Yeltsin won a second four-year term as president, defeating the Communists by a comfortable margin. This will be Yeltsin's last campaign. Even if his health were to permit another run—a dubious prospect in light of his heart and other disabilities that have recently kept him out of the limelight,—the Russian constitution limits the president to two terms of office.

The elections have been judged, by and large, as fair by the foreign election monitors but they were also an example of superb political manoeuvring that lifted Yeltsin from single-digit ratings in the polls to reelection with 54 per cent of the votes cast. In turning their backs on the Communism, the Russian voters did not necessarily cherish another Yeltsin term. They did, however, choose reform, hoping that this time it would be more gentle.

Some of the players have changed but the mountain of problems facing those who would govern Russia are even more difficult than they were in Yeltsin's first term. Yeltsin, the great juggler, seems to be juggling his health as well, and living on borrowed time. He was ill for most of the summer and appeared in public only infrequently.

The country's economic situation remains perilous and strikes are beginning anew, prompted by non-payment of wages. Kremlin insiders still differ on how to deal with Chechnya. Crime is rampant and arrests of those responsible for bombing Moscow's transit system have yet to be made. The army is underfunded, health care and social services are inadequate, agriculture continues to decline and food prices to rise. Perhaps most importantly, the uncertainty of Yeltsin's health has pitted the new, ambitious Secretary of the Security Council, Alexdr Lebed in a power struggle against Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. (A contender himself for the presidency, Lebed won 15 per cent backing in the first round of the presidential election and threw his support to Yeltsin before the run-off vote, helping to ensure Yeltsin's victory.) In such an uncertain scenario the voters will continue to have little opportunity to influence the actual policies of their government.

Outlook

The Gorbachev era, culminating in the breakup of the Soviet Union, is history. A reconstitution of the USSR is neither likely nor possible in the foreseeable future. Russia is too weak and lacks the resources for such a complex task. Yeltsin's era of rapid reform leading to a market economy is over as well. The eventual emergence of a democratic Russian state, based on civil law, still hangs in the balance. A more equitable and accountable division of power between legislature and executive is possible, assuming no major civil unrest, the development of adequate instruments of governance, and the advent of new leaders. Such evolution, however, will take time.

Russia has taken some strides towards democratic reform in the past ten years but continuing reform is by no means guaranteed. Opinion polls report variously that barely 20 per cent of the population approves the present economic system, that 41 per cent of Russians back the old Soviet political system as best for Russia and that only 27 per cent support Western-style democracy. Opinion polls in Russia are notoriously inaccurate but it is safe to say people over 55, pensioners, and those with less than secondary education generally support the return of the USSR.9 Exact percentages are affected by differences between those who live in large and those who live in small cities. The percentage of those who support the return of the USSR probably lies somewhere between 40 per cent and 30 per cent. This would suggest that approximately 60 per cent to 70 per cent prefer other than a Soviet structure, though not necessarily a Western democratic model. Clearly, the political future of Russia will be determined by the Russians themselves, notwithstanding the IMF loan, the German debt relief package or the support for the status quo favoured by Presidents Clinton and Chirac and Chancellor Kohl.

A priority issue for the next Russian government will be the economic burden being carried by the Russian population. President Yeltsin's pre-election payments of wages arrears and higher pensions has already fractionally increased real income and consumption.10 Such largesse will, however, strain Russian economic reforms.

The apparent Russian interest in the Chinese economy may be indicative of a future turn towards a "Russian" brand of market economy including partial state control, most likely in the development and protection of the Russian defence industry and resources such as hydro-carbons. Both of these spheres are important money-makers for the Russians. Continued Russian interest in the hydro-carbon resources of the CIS Central Asian republics and the Transcaucasus (the underbelly of Russia) will increase. This could lead to increased discord with Turkey and those Western countries which are now heavily engaged in exploration in the region. Under these circumstances the benefits of a continued "strategic partnership" with the West (seen by some Russian leaders as relegation to poor cousin status or, worse, that of a resource colony) could be questioned by Moscow elites who appreciate that Russia is still not able to compete industrially in a world market largely controlled by the G-7 states.

Russian foreign policy is developed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in an environment where leadership elites from the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Security, as well as the intelligence institutions all play a more important and influential role than in the West. Weakened politically, economically and diplomatically, and lacking militarily resources to challenge perceived threats, Moscow has adopted an increasingly assertive political foreign policy stance in the hopes of dividing Western unity on issues such as NATO expansion.

Foreign policy is not a primary interest of the Russian electorate except for the expectation of respect for Russia as a great power. Recent changes in the foreign ministry have all the earmarks of reviving Russia's "great power image". Moscow's pre-occupation with 19th and 20th century concepts of balance of power dictate much of its rhetoric regarding NATO expansion. The power nomenklatura in the military, intelligence services and, to some extent, Foreign Ministry remember well that 50 years ago the USA was willing to accept a Soviet sphere of influence in East and Central Europe, provided it remain open to commerce and a flow of ideas.11 They also recall, that more recently, Gorbachev agreed to the unification of Germany in return for assurances that NATO forces would not be stationed in the eastern part of the new Germany. Many of them argue that by extension this could apply anywhere east of Germany as well.

Continued preoccupation with the balance of power concept in inter-state relations will hinder Moscow's entry into the 21st century, because the concept is expensive as regards defence spending. It will also have a deleterious impact on relations with the West. The very concept of balance of power is counter-productive to building a cooperative security or even collective security architecture where no state feels threatened. Yet there has been little if any evident change in thinking on this issue in Moscow during any part of the transition process. An exception may have been the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Kozyrev, an annoying thorn in the side of the Russian Ministry of Defence and all security intelligence services, until he was ousted by President Yeltsin. A change in thinking will not be possible until new institutions and new leaders reshape policies.

The Director of the Russian Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada, Dr. Yuri Arbatov, has remarked that change in Russia will not take place overnight, it will take 100 years. Even that might be optimistic, when one considers the time it took the Western democracies to reach their present status, which—in most cases—continues to evolve. Russia is on the threshold of the next stage of its transition which is likely to be one of consolidation. This may not occur until after Yeltsin. Most agree that it will focus on the development of an integrated regional political and economic structure encompassing most of the former Soviet republics.

Russia will continue efforts to enhance its great power status but will likely continue important elements of cooperation with the West in areas of mutual benefit such as nuclear proliferation and arms control. It will take considerable time, however, to develop a cooperative strategic partnership with other European and North American states. The turn-about of the vast Russian caravan, where—in the words of the Turkmenistan proverb—"the last camel becomes first" has not occurred quite yet, but both the turnaround process itself and Russia's ensuing new direction are both too important to ignore.


1 See CSIS Commentary 48, Mar 94 - Organized Crime in Post-Communist Russia. [Return]


2 IHT T.L. Friedman, 10/02/96. [Return]


3 While armed forces loyal to the Gorbachev regime were instrumental in defusing the attempted coup of August 1991, their actions were not so much in response to a premeditated order by the civilian government leadership as they were a spontaneous reaction in a confusing situation, albeit largely inspired by Yeltsin's public heroics in defence of Gorbachev. [Return]


4 According to Oxford Analytica (16 November 1995), it is now generally believed that results of the constitution referendum were falsified to secure its approval. [Return]


5 According to The Economist Intelligence Unit reports of 1995 and 1996, the recession could still be affected by the presidential elections if the unexpected poor 1996 first-quarter performance is any indication. [Return]


6 Survival Vol. 37, Spring 1995. [Return]


7 Transition, March 1996. [Return]


8 Rossiiskaya Gazeta, November, 1993. [Return]


9 Transition, February 1996. [Return]


10 The Economist Intelligence Unit 2nd Quarter 1996. [Return]


11 R.L. Garthoff, Eastern Europe in the context of US-Soviet Relations. [Return]


The views expressed herein are those of the author, who may be contacted by writing to :

CSIS 
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ISSN 1192-277X
Catalogue JS73-1/69


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