Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In a Foxhole on Chechnya, Yeltsin Stands His Ground but the Russian President Is Staying in Power at Democracy's Expense

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In a Foxhole on Chechnya, Yeltsin Stands His Ground but the Russian President Is Staying in Power at Democracy's Expense

Article excerpt

DESPITE widespread concern over whether Boris Yeltsin is still in control of Russia, it appears likely that the Russian leader will remain in power at least until his presidential term expires in June 1996.

President Yeltsin, once perceived as the primary guarantor of Russian democracy, has met with sharp criticism both at home and abroad over his indiscriminate use of force in resolving Chechnya's independence bid.

But even as allegations mount of Kremlin mismanagement and military bungling, the possibility that he could be impeached, forced to resign, or ousted in a military coup seems unlikely, according to many Western and Russian analysts.

What is clear, however, is that Russia is veering off on a path far more authoritarian than most proponents of its market-reform programs would have predicted just one month ago.

The current situation "poses a danger to Russian democracy and its market economy," says former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Yeltsin's policy in Chechnya.

"We are facing long-term partisan warfare, increasing powers of the military and police, and a very serious undermining of human rights," he said in an interview yesterday.

Some politicians accuse the Russian president of having already lost his grip on power, saying he has subordinated his better judgment to the opinions of his hard-line inner circle.

But others scoff at the idea, saying that even the possibility of Yeltsin being forced to resign or ousted by an already divided military appears remote.

"I sincerely doubt that the military will be able to seize power. Yeltsin still has a strong chance to remain president until 1996," says former Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov in an interview.

"If the president finds an opportunity to have an impact on this process, he will even have a chance in future elections," adds Mr. Shaposhnikov. He replaced Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov after the failed hard-line coup against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991.

Both Communists and liberal reformers have launched a concerted campaign against Yeltsin's decision to dispatch troops to Chechnya on Dec. 11, leaving ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats as the only large parliamentary faction to support the president's hard-line policy.

But the opposition against Yeltsin in the State Duma, or more powerful lower house of parliament, is still too divided to act in a way that would influence Yeltsin's future.

"There has been a new coalition of Duma factions since the beginning of the Chechen crisis, bringing oddball people together, Communists and reformists," says a Moscow-based Western diplomat. "But I rather doubt they would get that singleness of purpose to call early elections and bring it all the way through with all the necessary constitutional amendments," he adds. …

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