Russian Crisis: A Nation Teetering on Brink of Civil War
Crawshaw, Steve, The Independent (London, England)
MOSCOW today has none of the moral simplicity of Bucharest 1989, nor even of Moscow 1991. Rather, Russia stands on the edge of an abyss - smutnoe vremya, or time of troubles which the country has already experienced on different occasions.
The most recent equivalent of the current unrest could be the civil war that lasted for several years after the revolution of 1917, before the Bolsheviks finally consolidated their power.
And yet, despite the chaos, it would be wrong to write off the process of democratic change. The fighting in Bucharest paved the way for the break-up of the Ceausescu dictatorship; the August coup, intended to turn the clock back, merely led to to the collapse of Soviet Communism. So it may prove to be on this occasion.
Theoretically, at least, Mr Yeltsin has few cards to play. If the rebels hold the television station, they hold great power.
Equally, the disenchantment of ordinary Russians with all forms of politics - putting a meal on the table is all that most care about - puts some doubt over the suggestion that people power could save Mr Yeltsin.
But the Russian leader has won many impossible battles before and emerged, strengthened, from almost certain defeat. In 1987 he was sacked by Mikhail Gorbachev for demanding more radical change; the Soviet leader, already the darling of the West, told him that he would not return to power. In 1989, Mr Yeltsin gained 90 per cent of a popular vote in elections which the Kremlin had partly rigged against him. In spring 1991, a rebellion against him by Communists in the Russian parliament backfired disastrously when Mr Yeltsin outmanoeuvred his opponents, and became the first popularly elected Russian president. In August 1991, he gained his most famous victory, when he stood on a tank outside the Russian parliament and proclaimed defiance against the coup.
Finally, in spring 1993, a similar clash of wills between Boris Yeltsin and the parliament seemed to mark a political death sentence for him. And, yet again, he emerged strengthened, with a popular referendum which provided a vote of confidence, not just for Mr Yeltsin personally, but even for his painful economic reforms.
The dramas of recent weeks, when he attempted the political castration of the obstructive parliament, followed a similar pattern. In theory, there was no democratic justification for Mr Yeltsin's actions, nor any reason why his actions should succeed. But the reality, until now, has been different.
Mr Yeltsin's promise of free elections in December, and presidential elections six months later, made it clear to Russians that they were not being asked to knuckle under. They were being offered a real choice for the future - for the first time. …