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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Difficult Choices Ahead

It has been over a week since the beginning of the Moscow "coup". Simple citizens and experienced politicians alike are having a difficult time picturing how the prolonged confrontation in the Russian capital will end. Yeltsin has not stormed the parliament building. But he is dragging his heels on calling the Federation Council, which is, perhaps, the only way to legitimize his actions.


This drawn-out pause seems at first glance to provide room for political wheeling and dealing. We have seen a bit of this in the past few days. But, judging by Yeltsin's announcement on the impossibility of holding simultaneous early elections for the president and the parliament, either the president is not inclined to make a deal, or else he is trying to raise the stakes by waiting.


By all accounts, the president has realized what is behind the proposal of the so-called centrists to hold elections for both the president and the parliament as quickly as possible. It is fairly simple: In such a short period of time it would be impossible to introduce changes into the law on presidential elections. If this is the case, the majority of analysts predict that no candidate for the president's seat could count on victory.


It seems that politicians such as Valery Zorkin, Arkady Volsky and Grigory Yavlinsky, in advancing their plan for "peaceful solution" calculated that Yeltsin would certainly be a candidate in the December elections, and would clash with the parliament-appointed "acting President" Alexander Rutskoi; as a result, neither of them would win. Power would naturally flow to the new parliament, in which the majority of votes are expected to be controlled by politicians who call themselves centrists.


Yeltsin saw the trap and managed to avoid it. He is, for the time being, adhering firmly to his declared model for governing the country: Until the State Duma is convened all power belongs to the president. After the Duma assembles a presidential veto can be overcome by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. It is unlikely that either chamber, especially the upper one, will be able to put together a two-thirds majority against the president, which would allow the executive to push through needed reforms with little trouble.


On the surface, this model seems flawless. But the first attempts to implement it have run into serious obstacles. At the beginning of the week it became clear that it would be impossible to hold elections on Dec. 12, for purely technical reasons. The Central Election Commission has not yet been completely formed, despite a presidential decree stating that it would begin work on Oct. 1. Specialists say that the earliest possible date for elections is Dec. 26, with the second round on Jan. 22.


Of course, in addition to technical difficulties there are political problems. It seems unlikely that the Russian regions and, especially, the republics will all adopt the president's ideas and try to provide the best possible conditions for the organization of elections.


The fact that the elections will probably have to be postponed is a blow to the president. If the elections are disrupted it is tantamount to a defeat for Yeltsin. That is what will most likely happen, if he continues to act alone. It is becoming obvious that the president realizes that he will be unable to bear the burden of power for long all by himself. He will have to share power if he is to solve the problem of governing the regions.


It is the difficult choice of partner that is causing this prolonged pause. This choice is historic, since it will determine the direction in which the Russian state will develop.


The fact is that the president's choices are fairly limited. There are only two options, and neither is very good.


In the first case the president can reach agreement with the Federation Council. In return for his consent to hold joint early elections (not in December, but in February-March, as the majority of regional authorities want) Yeltsin could demand that the council give legitimacy to the situation, adopt a law on presidential elections (so that in the second round the votes would be counted on the basis of the number of people actually casting ballots, not on the basis of voter registration lists), and approve the statute on the federal organs of power. The Federation Council would de facto acknowledge that it is the successor to the parliament.


The danger of such an option is in the inevitable strengthening of the position of the regions. This would mean that Russia had chosen the path of transformation from a centralized to a federated state. The danger of losing control over the regions is obvious, as is the danger that the disintegration process would intensify. Yugoslavia has shown what can happen when a unified state moves to a federated structure. In Russia there are few who wish to repeat Yugoslavia's experience. and outside of Russia such a possibility causes alarm, given Russia's nuclear potential.


The transformation of Russia into a federation would undoubtedly provoke strong resistance from the main forces whose help Yeltsin needs to attain victory - the bureaucracy and the army. Both forces are interested in keeping power in the center. Yeltsin could lose firm support, receiving in exchange the unreliable promises of the regional elite.


The second option was, in effect, sanctioned by Yeltsin in Bryansk - negotiating with the regions from a position of force: using the credit and finance levers (denying rebellious regions subsidies and credits) but not ruling out military force. Here the president would have the support of the Moscow bureaucracy and the army, but Russia would come dangerously close to transforming itself into a military-police state.


Yeltsin today is like a tightrope walker who could fall to the right or to the left. Will he be able to make it over the chasm? He does not have much time to make a decision. Either the president will announce the assembly of the Federation Council, or he will order the storming of the parliament.


Sergei Chugayev is a political observer for Izvestia.