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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Constitutional Strategy

The indisputable victory of Boris Yeltsin's supporters on the referendum will bring them nothing except a moral advantage over the opposition if the tally is not followed up by a decisive and organized chain of actions. This is clear. But exactly how the president's team plans to keep the political balance tipped in its favor has been a subject for endless predictions.


The key to the tactical plans of the Yeltsin camp can be found in the recently published "president's" draft of a new constitution. In the final portion of this draft - in the section titled "Transitional Statutes", we can find mention of a certain Council of Subjects of the Federation, which will, until new elections, have the powers of the upper house of the future parliament of the Russian Federation.


We have every reason to believe that the Kremlin is planning to begin forming this temporary Senate long before the draft becomes law.


I am referring to the Constitutional Assembly, which President Yeltsin proposed to convene at the end of this month. His expressed goal in this is to finalize the draft constitution. The real goal, however, is a much broader one: to counteract the conservative Supreme Soviet headed by Ruslan Khasbulatov, to protect the president from almost certain attempts at revenge from the Congress of People's Deputies, which is totally under the control of the opposition. The newly created assembly would immediately have to grapple with the Supreme Soviet, which will desperately defend its exclusive right to adopt a new constitution - as the Constitutional Commission, headed by Oleg Rumyantsev, is doing now.


Yeltsin gave the leaders of Russia's regions less than three weeks to think about whether or not they were ready to support the Kremlin's proposed method of constitutional reform. At a meeting with the Council of Republic Heads last week he said that May 20 was the last date for the representatives of all 88 subjects of the Russian Federation to formulate amendments to the official draft of the Basic Law of Russia. They must also report the names, of their delegates to the Constitutional Assembly by that time.


The initial reaction of the leaders of the autonomous regions to Yeltsin's plan was very restrained. Traditional critics of the president's policies from among the heads of the republics - such as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Karelia, Victor Stepanov, immediately began to talk about the "legal impropriety of the idea", and of "the presence of clear grounds for an appeal to the Constitutional Court".


But sooner or later the heads of the Russian republics and regions must abandon their punctiliousness. They must be convinced that the price proposed by Yeltsin for support in the fight with the opposition parliament is very tempting.


One of the influential experts of the Constitutional Court, Professor Vadim Sobakin, maintains: "The president's plan opens the way to transforming Russia from a single, united state to a union of many states, each with primary sovereignty.


In the opinion of many analysts, this process begun by Yeltsin could lead to a total reformation of Russia on the basis of bilateral treaties between the center and the subjects of the federation. The treaties would involve a fundamental redistribution of power between the capital and the periphery - in favor of the latter.


By the way, this was exactly the prospect facing Mikhail Gorbachev during the final, "post-putsch" stage of his rule. Such a transition could have been the logical result of the Novo-Ogarevo negotiation process. But Gorbachev was too late with his reforms of the structure of the U. S. S. R. and today we hear the question quite often: "Has Yeltsin reached his Novo-Ogarevo? "


The majority of Yeltsin's current advisers vehemently reject this analogy. "There can be no talk of a new Novo-Ogarevo. Unlike Gorbachev, Yeltsin will sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the subjects of the federation, with a Federal Treaty already signed by them in his pocket", says Vyacheslav Volkov, deputy chief of staff.


But the position of Sergei Alekseyev, director of the group of authors of the president's draft constitution, is more realistic: "There is nothing more terrifying than to wait passively for the moment when Russia will have to be sewn together with rotten threads, like the Union after August, 1991. Gorbachev committed a grave error, when he was unable to shift the U. S. S. R. to a federal system. Today, too, the situation is a complicated one: a reorientation towards the subjects of the federation, both national and territorial, is the only means of saving Russia from collapse. It is necessary to overtake events".


The words have been spoken: "a shift to a federal system". Advocates of such an approach hope that things will not go that far. The same Sergei Alekseyev maintains: "The tendencies toward separatism and disintegration will die out when the bearers of these tendencies participate in the work of a united organ, such as the Council of Federation or the Constitutional Assembly".


But there should be no illusions on this score - Yeltsin is taking a desperate risk. The stakes in the game are extremely high: The ratification of the new constitution, which significantly widens the president's powers, will once and for all guarantee the advantage of the executive organs of power in their fight with the legislature. But there are no guarantees that the constitutional assembly, having once played the role of a temporary alternative parliament and, having had a taste of real power, will be satisfied with a modest "editorial" role and will not try to maintain itself on Russia's Mount Olympus.


Sergei Parkhomenko is a correspondent and editor for the new biweekly newspaper Segodnya.