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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Elusive Political Center

The power struggle between President Boris Yeltsin and parliament is usually seen by outside observers as a black vs. white fight between Westernizing liberal reformers on the one hand, and orthodox communists and ultranationalists on the other.


The grays in the middle tend to get lost - consider Yevgeny Ambartsumov, the chairman of parliament's committee on foreign relations.


When parliament voted 160-0 with one abstention to declare the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol a part of Russia earlier this month, Ambartsumov voted "yes", albeit grudgingly.


"I was in favor of a softer formulation, that looked like less of a challenge", he said in a recent interview. But in the end, he supported the tough resolution backed by parliament's conservative majority.


When the U. N. Security Council urged the Russian parliament to repeal its decision, Ambartsumov was one of an overwhelming majority who voted not to reconsider.


And yet, Ambartsumov, 63, is neither a communist retread nor a fringe nationalist.


"It is not like an order to establish Russian power in Sevastopol", Ambartsumov, seated in his large office overlooking a small park where the national-communist alliance frequently holds rallies, said of the resolution. "It is a position that can be realized in political negotiations with Ukraine".


A former member of the Democratic Russia alliance that backed Yeltsin's rise to power in 1990, Ambartsumov ran for his seat in the legislature, that year on a platform of support for free enterprise, private property and private ownership of land, and sovereignty for Russia within the Soviet Union.


But while some Democratic Russia leaders saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union as an inevitable consequence of establishing a democratic government, Ambartsumov grew increasingly concerned over the creation of foreign states out of lands that traditionally belonged to Russia.


While the legislator still supports Yeltsin on many internal political issues, such as the need for a new, democratic constitution, he has become a leading voice in the protest against human rights violations against the 25 million Russians still living in the other former Soviet republics.


Citing Russia's traditional ownership of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula where Sevastopol is located that is 75 percent Russian, Ambartsumov, who is part Armenian but has lived in Moscow most of his life, said tersely: "It should be Russian".


Ambartsumov's position on Sevastopol is symbolic of why Russia does not have a political center. Concern over Ukraine, Russians living in former Soviet republics, the fate over brother Orthodox Slavs in Serbia has united moderate nationalists with democratic ideals - who should occupy the Russian center - with the hardline nationalists with largely imperial or neo-Soviet aspirations who wish to bring down Yeltsin's government.


Ambartsumov said that his opposition to Yeltsin on foreign policy issues has cut him out of the information loop.


"I have no access to the president", he said, adding that he gets his information from television and newspapers. "It's an abnormal situation. Ambassadors of foreign states have information before I do".


As a result, Ambartsumov said, Russian foreign policy is dominated by Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev's efforts to keep Russia closely allied with the West in order to secure promises of financial aid. This aid, he said, including promises of fresh money coming out of Tokyo, is "too little too late".


"The national state interests of Russia have been put on the back burner", he said, in favor of what he calls the interests of the West: to liquidate the Russian military threat and stimulate the breakup of Russia.


"Certain forces in the West believe that the weaker Russia is, the better", Ambartsumov said, in what sounds like an eerie recasting of the old Soviet anti-Western propaganda line.


But Ambartsumov said this alleged policy of weakening Russia could "boomerang" against the West by humiliating Russians and opening the way for extreme nationalists to come to power.


"Despite the constant crisis, none of the conflicts on the periphery have developed into a full scale war of disintegration, like in the former Yugoslavia", he said. "The West should be happy with us".