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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Whither Yeltsin's Peace Pact?

Remember the Kremlin peace pact?


Nine months ago President Boris Yeltsin summoned hundreds of guests to the Kremlin and invited them all to drink a glass of champagne or two and solemnly sign his Pact on Social Accord agreeing to abstain from political conflict.


The whole occasion looks even more surreal now in retrospect than it did at the time. Then it at least had a kind of primitive political logic to it, which helped stabilize the country.


Yeltsin's priority for 1994 was a political breathing-space. Entrenched by a strong presidential constitution he could afford to be more emollient to his new parliament, fully aware that if it started to get antagonistic he could just turn his back and carry on governing by decree.


The peace pact was in effect a Magna Carta, but offered by the King himself. It was supposed to formally mark an end to the era of the power struggle that the world knew as Yeltsin vs. Khasbulatov. As one sharp political observer pointed out it was a kind of "thieves' pact" which set out what belonged to whom in the country, a division of the spoils.


It was especially important in setting out Moscow's relations with the regions. The message to local leaders was essentially: "We understand you want to be the local boss. Don't rock the boat and we'll not bother you and turn a blind eye to the precise methods you may use to stay in power."


Reaching some kind of accommodation was vital because while the political disintegration of the Russian Federation has long been off the agenda, economic disintegration was and is a problem threatening to split the country apart. The self-declared Urals Republic around Yekaterinburg and half-a-dozen other regions were all threatening to bypass Moscow altogether.


Last year Yeltsin was trying to start clawing back some of the power the center had lost in the last three years and collect more tax revenues. If he could not stop the huge outflow of capital escaping the federal treasury, he could at least come to some arrangement.


Now, as we all know, the boat has been upset, but by Yeltsin himself. Yeltsin went ahead with his intervention in Chechnya without consulting either house of parliament or the leaders of regions and republics. What's more, Moscow has proved pitifully incompetent at putting down a rebellion in one of the regions.


The regional leaders have been quick to see which way the wind is blowing.


Some are already turning into small-time tsars. The governor of the Primorsky region, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, for instance: He has closed down newspapers and terrorized his political opponents. This week his candidates resoundingly won local elections in Vladivostok. The most troublesome thorn in his side, former mayor Viktor Cherepkov, was briefly reinstated but has now been sacked again.


But Nazdratenko has backed Yeltsin on Chechnya. And for that alone he looks certain to stay on and do exactly as he pleases.


Or take the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev, who went to visit Yeltsin on Wednesday. In a cold conversation on the steps of the Federation Council he made it clear to me who had been lecturing whom. Tatarstan was "tense," Shaimiyev said. The Chechen crisis needed to be settled as peacefully as possible. Regional leaders had to be consulted. Did Yeltsin accept all these arguments? "Absolutely," Shaimiyev said.


Some of the strongest bargaining power is now in the hands of the Moslem leaders of the North Caucasus republics. In Dagestan and Ingushetia, anger has bubbled up at the Chechen war and locals could easily stage partisan-style raids on Russian soldiers in the area.


If the Kremlin wants to stabilize the North Caucasus it must win back the support of the local leadership. If it tries to remove them it could face a nasty rebellion.


A group of regional leaders assembled in Cheboksary recently to discuss the crisis. Ominously for Yeltsin they invited Yury Skokov, the ambitious former Security Council Secretary who is considered one of the country's strongest power-brokers. He is also a man who would dearly love to walk the corridors of the Kremlin again.


So regional policy is back at square one, and one of the biggest losers looks set to be the federal budget.