Russia in the Early 1990’s Part 4

To face the threat and in anticipation of a difficult electoral campaign – the one for the election of the president called for June 1996 – which saw him, according to the polls, the loser, El´cin, removing the vice-premier A. Čubais from the government and Foreign Minister A. Kozyrev, and then replacing the latter with E. Primakov, opposed to the strongly ‘Westernist’ positions that had characterized Russian foreign policy, worked to mitigate the conflicts with the majority of the Duma. At the same time, by launching an initiative for the union between the Russia and Belarus, sanctioned on March 22, 1996 and also open to Kazakhstan as well as, but unsuccessfully, to Ukraine and Moldova, it attempted to respond with a concrete act to those who advocated a ‘return to the USSR’. In the same period, although forced – as will be known, but only later, due to a severe form of myocardial ischemia – to prolonged absences from the Kremlin, he launched a peace initiative towards Chechnya. However, the renunciation of the military solution had not yet been faced, so the fighting continued until and beyond the death of Dudaev, whose base was reached by a missile on March 21, 1996. The presentation by Yel´cin of a peace plan for Chechnya allowed however to improve political and economic relations with Western countries which, although continuing to look at the conflict that broke out in the Caucasus as an internal problem of the Russia, had cooled – also due to the pressure of their public opinions – relations with Moscow. Another terrain on which El´cin aimed to feed the consensus was that of the fight against corruption and the mafia. However, everything resulted again in the usual abrupt removal of a group of powerful men (including M. Barzukov, head of the Federal Security Council), who had become unpopular because they were at the center of a series of major scandals.

Then there was a series of signs to El´cin’s assets – the net fall in the inflation rate from 1353 % in 1992 to 190, 1 % in 1995, to 47, 8 % in 1996, and again the increase in production in a first group of sectors – which seemed indicative of an even timid start to the economic recovery. In reality, the undoubted improvements that occurred in the economic indices and the successes achieved in the same period in the policy of privatization – which however, as already mentioned, took place in the form of the appropriation of public goods by a small oligarchic group (already at the end of 1995 over 14. 000 medium-large companies, comprising 15 million workers, i.e. 70 % of industry employees, had left the state sector) – only minimally resulted in improving the living conditions of the poorest population. Suffice it to say that the reduction in the inflation rate was achieved thanks above all to the delayed and, in many cases, non-payment of wages and salaries (domestic debt accumulated by the state for this entry will gradually increasing until in 1998 the figure of 40 billion dollars). Hence the start of a strong movement of strikes by, in particular, over 500.000 miners.

To ensure the victory of Yel´cin – whose real health conditions, which worsened at the end of the electoral campaign, were kept hidden from the population – in the second round of the presidential elections against Zjuganov (June 1996) were – beyond the support of A. Lebed, G. Javlinskij and other candidates who also presented themselves in the first round on highly critical positions towards the president – the growing concerns with which democratic public opinion looked at the possible success of Zjuganov (32 % compared to the 35 % of votes went to El´cin in the first round). Nor did the worries disappear completely after the vote (Yel´cin had 53.7 %, Zjuganov 40.4%), when it became known that the president would have to undergo – which happened, and with a positive outcome, on November 5 – a difficult surgery. However, the choice he made with the appointment of General Lebed – a very popular figure for the contribution he had given to the defense of the Russian minority in Moldova and then to the dissolution of the crisis in that republic – at the head of the Security Council and then as responsible negotiations with the Chechen rioters seemed to dispel the doubts that had arisen about the stability of the regime. Uncertainties and risks for stability, however, returned to become evident when, in October of the same year, El´cin clamorously broke with Lebed, while endorsing the latter’s policy towards Chechnya, so already in the first days of 1997 the last Russian troops were withdrawn from the Caucasus Republic.

According to, the 1997 seemed to open under the sign of normalization with the entry into force on 1January of the new penal code (the new civil code was introduced in March of the previous year). On the political level, to mitigate the concerns dictated by the absence at the head of the country of a sufficiently united management group able to guarantee stability in the face of a succession that promised to be difficult, even if El´cin’s health conditions had returned normal, there was the appointment of two deputy prime ministers, Čubais, responsible for finance, and above all B. Nemcov, the young governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, which has become one of the areas where the line of reforms had been most successfully pursued. Even in the economic success did not fail (at the end of the year they had recorded increases of 0, 9 % of GDP, of ‘1, 9 % of industrial production and the 3, 5 % of income per capita, while inflation had stood at 14, 7 %), they found significant recognition to the G- 7 Denver (20 – 22 June). A few weeks earlier, Yel´cin and the president of Chechnya, A. Maskhadov, had signed the peace treaty between the Russia and Chechnya which, albeit postponed to 2001 the decision on the definition of relations between Moscow and Groznyj, however, recognized virtually absolute independence for the Caucasian republic, which in the meantime had itself proclaimed itself the ‘Islamic Republic’. The end of the war in Chechnya allowed Russia to intervene more forcefully in the political-economic conflict around the questions of the exploitation and transport routes of Caspian oil, a conflict that had, and continues to have, as protagonists, in addition to the republics coastal areas of the former USSR, including Iran, Turkey and the oil companies of various other countries, including those of the United States.

Russia in the Early 1990's 4

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