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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Trip Too Late to Bring Peace

President Boris Yeltsin's promised trip to Chechnya is a classic case of too little, too late. While political leaders from Kremlin officials to parliamentary deputies have toured the war-stricken area, Yeltsin has stayed resolutely away from the zone of conflict.

When the important decisions were being made, Yeltsin evinced no desire to examine firsthand the results of his policies. When whole cities were disappearing, thousands of civilians being turned into refugees, the president of the country was content with the reports of his advisers.

It is a shame that Yeltsin saw no need to visit the breakaway republic earlier, to see for himself the effects of his policies, to develop a feel for the real scale of human suffering. It might have made a difference.

Now, when it is politically expedient, the president is on fire to go to the republic that his troops have been systematically destroying for the past 17 months.

The trip itself, if it does take place, is likely to be a limited exercise in electoral politics. With the republic unstable and rebel fighters calling for blood after the death of their leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, any extensive tour of the republic is out of the question.

Security considerations will almost certainly confine Yeltsin to Grozny's Severny airport, one of the few places where he can be adequately protected.

He is unlikely to see or hear anything there that will significantly expand his understanding of what the war has meant to the people of Chechnya, or to the troops that he has been sending down there. He will not see the ruins of Grozny. He will not see the refugees who have been shunted from village to village as the war blasted its erratic path.

Just a few months ago, Yeltsin promised a speedy end to the war, telling reporters that he "had no business running for president" if the conflict were still continuing in June.

With the elections just one month away, there are few signs that an end to the tragedy is forthcoming. The president's trip is designed for maximum exposure and minimal risk, an empty gesture that may benefit his campaign, but is unlikely to do much to draw the embittered antagonists into serious negotiations.

The war in Chechnya is commonly acknowledged to be the biggest blot on Yeltsin's presidency, a national tragedy that has claimed the lives of over 30,000 people, most of them civilians.

It is too soon to tell whether the Chechnya issue will prove to be Yeltsin's downfall. But his visit to the area, while it will probably do his election prospects no harm, is unlikely to redeem him in the eyes of Russia's voters.