FORMER Russian acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, known as the
"reform czar" for his Western-style economic policies, was once
one of President Boris Yeltsin's closest allies. But when the
Russian leader dispatched troops to Chechnya on Dec. 11, Mr. Gaidar
emerged as one of his most outspoken critics.
Gaidar now heads Russia's Choice, the largest single faction in
the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. But because many
Russians associate Gaidar's market policies with the economic
hardships they encountered following the Soviet collapse, he has
lost some public support.
He talked Jan. 9 to the Monitor about possible consequences of
military action in Chechnya, and how they could affect Russia's
future. Excerpts follow.
Is a military coup possible?
That's guesswork. War in young, unstable democracies decreases
the power of civil institutions and increases the power of military
institutions. So, the chances for the coup are much higher now than
they were two months ago.
Is the military split?
The military is divided. There are reasonable men in the Army
who hate what is happening, and there are a lot of dangerous,
stupid fools in the Army. It's difficult to figure out who is in
control. A coup could be more or less easy in this type of
political instability, when the support of civil institutions is so
low. But you would not need the Army to make a coup. You would need
just one battalion.
The West says it so far has no contingency plans if Yeltsin
falls. Who could be a realistic alternative to Yeltsin?
Let us create a big democratic coalition, including one against
the war. Let us try to get public support and win the parliamentary
elections. At that time it will be much easier for us to discuss
who should be the presidential candidate.
Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky has supported Yeltsin
throughout the conflict. Could he become the next Russian
I will not exclude it, but I think it's rather improbable. He's
a bit too obvious. He made many promises before the last elections,
but fulfilled only a small number of them, if any. So I think it
will be very difficult for him to run an efficient campaign, but I
will not write him off.
Yeltsin thought he could subdue Chechnya in just a few days. How
could he make such a grave political miscalculation?
It would be much better, of course, to ask Mr. President. There
were times when I had perfect knowledge of what the president was
thinking. But now I would be one of the thousands of political
scientists looking through the window and trying to guess what
Yeltsin is really thinking.
When was the last time you had contact with Yeltsin?
We met and discussed certain issues in early November. Since
then I have telephoned him, and he knows that I would like to meet
him. I have written him a few letters, some of them personal. But
I have received no answer.
Has Yeltsin changed, or is he just finally showing his true
For me, the Yeltsin who was trying to destroy Communist power,
who was trying to build Russian democracy and fight for freedom of
speech, for free and fair elections, trying to open the path of the
market economy, was the Yeltsin promoting a policy I could support. …