Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Marriage Made in Hell

When I first wrote about the "letter of 13" and Alexander Korzhakov's call for compromise, it seemed that adventurous attempts to cancel the elections had backfired.

The Communists reacted as predicted, and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said with noble indignation: "What kind of compromise are you speaking about? You are talking about destroying the constitution. We'll never stand for it. For we are law-abiding people ourselves." The following day, President Boris Yeltsin publicly disassociated himself from the announcement by his chief of security service. Businessmen, led by Boris Berezovsky, head of LogoVAZ, revealed that "there were extremists calling for canceling the elections with whom they categorically disassociated themselves."

Even more surprising after all these events was Colonel-General Leonty Kuznetsov's announcement about the need to "abolish all these petty intrigues with the elections."

Such an unconstrained disregard for the constitution by a colonel-general says much about the state of society, the army and presidential power in Russia. But Kuznetsov is not only a colonel-general but commander of Moscow's military district. The fate of the government of Russia, especially during troubled times, has traditionally depended on the mood of the capital's military garrison.

Last Sunday, Alexander Zhilin, military correspondent for the television news program "Itogi," said he believed that the choice of Kuznetsov to speak out was made so that the opposition would understand that if even a man such as Kuznetsov speaks in favor of supporting Yeltsin, then the army will be on his side -- and not the opposition's -- should a crisis arise.

It seems to me, however, that Kuznetsov's message, which he repeated once again last Sunday, has a somewhat different meaning. His call for canceling the elections is not at all an appeal in support of Yeltsin. Canceling the elections and prolonging Yeltsin's presidency with limited powers for an indefinite period would mean political death for him. It is not the fate of Yeltsin or democratic reform that the president's close circle is concerned about, but their own survival.

Zyuganov has already unambiguously repudiated the proposed deal. And it is clear why. The Communists need a precedent of coming to power in an absolutely legal and constitutional way.

The Russian Communist Party is varied. There are honest idealists like Leonid Petrovsky, the chairman of the State Duma Supervisory Commission, whose criticism of the war in Chechnya is as relentless as that of any human rights activists. And there are also people whose idea of constitutionality is much weaker. The first person to raise the idea of canceling the elections and extending the president's powers for a few months to allow for amending the constitution and abolishing the post of president was none other than the Communist State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov.

Confusion and discord seem to reign in the Yeltsin camp. While Korzhakov's part of the president's entourage continues to promote making a deal with the Communists -- which would be political suicide for him -- Yeltsin's liberally oriented advisers put forward the idea of an alliance with the democrats and, above all, Grigory Yavlinsky. Vyacheslav Nikonov has laid out the pluses and minuses of naming Yavlinsky prime minister. Nikonov remarked that the branches of industry that have accepted Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will perceive Yavlinsky as someone who is alien to their way of thinking.

There is something that Nikonov does not mention, which makes the option with Yavlinsky absolutely untenable, regardless of his qualities or intentions. Yavlinsky's position on Chechnya is unacceptable to the powerful part of Yeltsin's close circle that is traditionally defined as the "party of war."

Russian generals are poised for victory in Chechnya -- as would be any general in any war. But if it is true that war is too serious to be entrusted to generals, then civil war is all the more so. In principle, there can be no victories in civil war. Any victory can only be the start of a historical tragedy.

If Chechnya is part of Russia, as we Russians have been saying, then Chechens are a part of our people. Thus, by killing soldiers and citizens in even greater numbers, we are leading a fierce civil war -- a war over which Yeltsin has long since lost political control.

There are people who unleashed the war and those who are profiting from it. They are interested in neither new people's coming to power nor in Yeltsin's exercising legitimate authority. In either case, they could be called to account for their actions. They need a weak president who is fully dependent on them.

In the bankers' letter, the businessmen hypocritically spoke of a compromise between the best and most sensible representatives from both camps, a compromise that would cut off extremists. No. If this deal takes place, then it will be one made by some of the worst, most rapacious and cruel people. It would give rise to authorities that are responsible neither before the law nor the people. They would be responsible only to a clique of generals from the special services and bankers for whom 18-year-old boys will continue to "die with smiles on their lips" in the mountains of the Caucasus and Pamirs.

The only person who can stop the direction the army is taking and the civil war in the south of the country is General Boris Gromov. His nomination to defense minister is truly necessary for society.

All government officials, civilian and military, who are allowing the calls for canceling the elections should immediately be fired from their duties.

Holding the elections on time and creating a precedent for the transfer of power to the legitimately elected president are absolutely necessary for the democratic development of Russia.

Andrei Piontkowsky is director of the Center for Strategic Studies. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.