WHEN THE SOVIET REGIME broke down in 1991, many citizens of the successor countries, along with many foreign observers and well-wishers, believed that a smooth "transition" was in the works and that democratic states with well-functioning market economies would be the more or less inevitable and early result. The years since then have constituted a fascinating and often bitter education in the difficulties involved in the transformation of communist systems of rule. It is one thing to destroy the institutions of an outmoded regime; it is quite another to forge effective new institutions and the norms that underpin them.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Russian Federation. The economic reforms unleashed by Boris Yeltsin in 1992 have made undeniable progress, but they have also brought about a drastic drop in national output and the impoverishment of millions of people. In the political sphere, competitive elections have been held and political parties have proliferated, but the post-Soviet state is ineffectual and frequently rudderless. There are no guarantees about the stability of present arrangements once President Boris Yeltsin leaves the scene.
The election of December 12, 1993, was a watershed in the evolution of the new state. It was the first national election to be fought in Russia on a multiparty basis since before World War I. It occurred after a constitutional conflict between president and parliament spun out of control and erupted in violence in Moscow, treating the world to the bizarre spectacle of an elected president's ordering army tanks to shell the headquarters of an elected parliament. Confident of victory in the campaign, the Yeltsin ad