THE question for many here is not who will win the vicious power
struggle between the Russian president and his conservative enemies
in parliament. It is: Will be the struggle cause the Russian
Federation to disintegrate?
The leaders of the regions and the ethnic republics that make up
the vast Russian Federation emerged as an independent and
increasingly powerful force at the special session of the Congress
of Peoples Deputies that wrapped up over the weekend.
For some of them, the seemingly endless scramble for authority
behind the Kremlin walls shows that the central government is
dysfunctional, and that the federation is probably doomed.
"If Russia is breaking up then there is one question that I must
ask: `Why do we have to go down together with it?,' " says
Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei, the parliament chairman of the Tuva
Autonomous Republic, a region about 3,000 miles east of Moscow
along the Mongolian border.
Mr. Bicheldei says Tuva may schedule a referendum April 11 on
"leaving the Russian Federation." An "absolute majority of the
population" would support such a proposal, he says.
Other regional leaders are not looking to jump ship just yet but
are exasperated at the inability of those involved in the Moscow
power struggle to put their differences aside for the good of the
"The most important issue today is the perfection of relations
within the federation in order not to slip into a Yugoslav ...
scenario," says Viktor Stepanov, parliament head of the Karelian
Autonomous Republic, an ethnic homeland bordering Finland.
Though many are pessimistic, not all regional leaders are
convinced events in Moscow will lead to the breakup of Russia.
Valentin Fyodorov, the governor of Sakhalin Island in the Russian
Far East, is confident Yeltsin will win the struggle for power and
preserve the federation.
"Executive power," Mr. Fyodorov says, "it is a
quasi-dictatorship, it always represents order, whereas the
parliament stands for disintegration."
Russia is a federation composed of 21 ethnically determined
regions along with largely Russian-populated areas such as in
Siberia and the Far East. Already two autonomous republics -
Tatarstan in the Volga region and Chechenya in the northern
Caucasus - are agitating for independence. Several more threaten to
The danger of separatism is being exacerbated, some observers
say, by the attempts of both Mr. Yeltsin and parliament Speaker
Ruslan Khasbulatov, the president's bitter rival, to drag the
regions and autonomous republics into the fray. …