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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The End of Democracy

Many observers have been speaking openly about the Kremlin's secret motive in undertaking military action in Chechnya: They argue that the move barely hides an underlying desire to restore authoritarianism to Russia. The most active political opponents of President Boris Yeltsin's regime -- the founders and activists of the nationalist-Communist alliance -- claim that the goal of Yeltsin's punitive mission in the Caucasus is the establishment of martial law throughout Russia and the cancellation of the inexorably approaching presidential elections.

Of course, there are no serious grounds to suspect the Kremlin of such refined perfidy: Among Yeltsin's inner circle there is simply no one capable of planning and carrying out such a complex and risky maneuver. Instead, the entire sequence of events in the unfolding Caucasus crisis should be seen as merely further evidence of the essentially "reactionary" character of Russian policy. The authorities are once again simply mechanically reacting to another political "irritant." Each subsequent action occurs not because of the suppositions of Kremlin strategists, but in spite of them.

In effect, we are now seeing the same knee-jerk policy that led to the catastrophe in the Caucasus in the first place. It is clear that the most important precondition for the situation in Chechnya was the incredible failure of the Kremlin's analysts. It has become clear that the authorities are absolutely incapable of collecting, analyzing and correctly evaluating information about the social and political landscape in Russian society. And we are seeing this even more clearly now than we did in the aftermath of the December 1993 parliamentary elections.

As early as Dec. 12, we began seeing a whole system of suppositions and prognoses on the basis of which planners close to Yeltsin designed "a complex of undertakings intended to restore constitutional order in Chechnya." For one thing, the political leadership placidly allowed the military high command to convince itself that "our tanks are swift and our armor is strong." It would seem that neither Afghanistan, nor Tajikistan, nor Abkhazia have done anything to make our leaders more prudent.

The second argument introduced in favor of a military solution of the conflict was a belief that the risk of the fighting expanding beyond the borders of Chechnya had somehow faded into the past. They claimed that no one -- not the populace or the leadership of the neighboring North Caucasian regions nor any of the informal nationalist groups in the region -- is willing to come to the defense of Dzhokhar Dudayev's regime.

In addition, none of the Kremlin's military or civilian analysts seemed to doubt for a minute that the widespread hatred among European Russians toward "the blacks" is so great that it could be used to justify any violence the authorities might choose to employ in the region. This cynical analysis was also partly based on the idea that any armed conflict in Chechnya would be seen not only as an inter-ethnic conflict, but an inter-religious one. In general, Islam is so incomprehensible to Russia's Slavic majority that its support -- the authorities figured -- would naturally fall to the government, which has all but declared Orthodoxy a state religion.

Each of these analytic exercises turned out to be 100 percent wrong. The tank columns which, if one were to judge by our old propaganda slogans, should have been capable of reaching the English Channel in 48 hours, took about a week to crawl into position. The neighboring North Caucasus republics met the invasion with active, stubborn resistance. No anti-Caucasus hysteria materialized either in Moscow or anywhere else in European Russia. The citizenry did not rush to their local police stations to denounce their swarthy neighbors. In addition, the highest religious leaders of Chechnya were respectfully met by the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, which demonstrated sincere sympathy and understanding for the peoples of the region.

Now, however, the democratic foundations of Russian society and the Russian state face a powerful threat. The chances are great that the authorities will aggressively and irresponsibly react to the "tragic incongruity" between their expectations and reality. And, of course, their reaction will not be to correct their policy and thereby admit their failures, but to attempt to correct reality itself at any cost.

From this perspective, it seems clear that "the transfer of the armed struggle to the streets of Moscow," which has been a constant feature of official propaganda out of Grozny, is the last thing Dudayev's regime needs. After all, the Chechen diaspora has managed to accumulate a considerable amount of property in Russia, and not all of it by criminal means. It is not just a matter of kiosks or market stalls either, but of real estate, housing, small industrial enterprises and well-equipped stores, warehouses and banks.

It won't take long before people are found who would be happy to expropriate these properties: Any "martial-law" situation would be fraught with the possibility of real ethnic cleansing in Russia's major cities, providing competing criminal groups with ideal circumstances for taking their revenge.

On the other hand, a series of small but impressive terrorist acts in Moscow would allow the authorities to justify any course of action in the Caucasus. Under such circumstances, absolutely anything might happen.

This is the reasoning behind the unprecedented pressure that the Russian press has brought to bear on the government and the loud opposition by many members of parliament, who have offered to help seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis. We are right to speak out about the danger of political provocations on the part of the authorities. The result of such moves can only be the loss of President Yeltsin's authority and the last bits of confidence the people have in him, as well as the loss of all effective democratic means of governing Russia.

Sergei Parkhomenko is a columnist for Segodnya. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.