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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Constitution: Stakes Too High to Rush

Following Russia's constitutional process is a little like watching grass grow. President Boris Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly adopted a final draft constitution Monday - but will work on it some more for the rest of the summer. It finished its work - but is coming back. The temptation is to push them to hurry up and get this over with, but the stakes are far too high.


Yeltsin called the assembly primarily as a lactic in his power struggle with the Russian legislature. He hoped, and still hopes, to get the Russian Federation's regional leaders on his side to override the legislature. It is impossible to overestimate the power of the argument Yeltsin would have if he could say to the Congress of People's Deputies "The entire federation has signed this document - approve it or you will be responsible for breaking Russia into pieces".


Unfortunately, in Monday's vote, Yeltsin won only some of that support. That brought him one step closer to ridding himself of the congress, but it also showed that the regional weapon can cut both ways. If Tatarstan or the vast republic of Sakha were finally to refuse to sign a constitution making them part of the federation, it is Yeltsin who would be called upon to tell the Russian people why he has failed to keep the country whole.


Sakha, for example, has an area of 3. 1 million square kilometers - exactly the same size as India. It also produces most of Russia's diamonds and gold. For Sakha to refuse to sign the charter would be a little like Texas deciding that, after all, it wanted no part in the United States of America.


The Moslem republic of Tatarstan also declined to sign Monday's draft. It is far smaller than Sakha, but rich in oil and more importantly in political threats. Following suit were eight other republics and 16 of Russia's administrative regions. The tiny north Caucasus republic of Chechnya never even sent a delegation, considering itself already independent.


Under these circumstances the main positive outcome from Monday's vote was Yeltsin's quiet acknowledgment that the assembly - yet again - will not dissolve. Instead it will recess, the delegates will take the draft charter home for comment or approval, and reconvene in August.


The president should be encouraged to let the writing of a new constitution run its course, despite his need to get a draft approved to help him in his power struggle. For in the long view, the breakup of the federation would present a greater threat to stability and democracy in Russia than a continuing power struggle in Moscow.