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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Corruption, Chechnya: The Price We Paid for '93

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I find it painful to recall the events of September and October 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin, with whom I had worked side by side for more than three years, organized a plot against the Constitution and then carried out his criminal plan by issuing the infamous decree No. 1400. The top brass in the military and law enforcement agencies, along with the heads of the security services, also broke the law by ordering tanks to fire on parliament, then harshly punishing the defenders of the Constitution and throwing the speaker of parliament -- me -- into Lefortovo Prison.

According to unofficial figures, more than 2,000 people were killed in the storming of parliament. In his book, Yeltsin refers to just 160 victims of his pogrom. Later the State Duma amnestied not just myself and other falsely accused supporters of the parliament, but also those who carried out the attack. In my view, the Kremlin sought the amnesty primarily for the latter group. And in exchange for its support of the amnesty, the Kremlin secured the dissolution of the parliamentary commission studying the causes and circumstances of the attack on parliament.

I have been asked many times why Yeltsin resorted to such drastic measures. What was the crux of my conflict with Yeltsin? Do I not personally bear some responsibility for the tragedy? How did the 1993 events affect the future course of Russian politics?

Let me make clear from the outset that I do not idealize my actions, beginning with my election as first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, on Yeltin's initiative. I had been elected to the Congress of People's Deputies from Grozny in January 1990. After we had put down the putsch organized by the State Committee for the State of Emergency, or GKChP, I became the first chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russia, or Russian parliament.

Despite the many mistakes made by Russian lawmakers in those days, myself included, I can state unequivocally that the Russian parliament of the early 1990s was moving steadily down the path of democratic reform. The parliament was not "dominated by the Communists," as the Kremlin's propagandists insisted. For proof one need look no farther than the attempted putsch in August 1991, when Yeltsin's main source of support -- in fact, his only support -- was the parliament.

My conflict with the Kremlin began with the issue of economic reform. After quashing the 1991 putsch, Yeltsin entrusted the government to inexperienced people who were totally unprepared to run an enormous country mired in a deep and systemic crisis. Bear in mind that the country, through its elected representatives, had chosen the course of capitalist transformation well before this government came to power. But Yeltsin's new government tried to rush the process of "remaking" a state-controlled economy into a market economy based on private ownership. We in parliament believed that this transformation would take years to accomplish. Where were the wealthy investors would could afford to buy factories and the like? Where were the managers who could run the factories? Where were the private bankers? We thought it essential to build a market infrastructure rather than racing ahead with "total privatization" as the Bolsheviks had implemented "total collectivization."

The Yeltsin government falsely accused parliament of dragging its heels on economic legislation. It insisted that these issues could be settled by presidential decree and by directives handed down by the government and even by individual ministries. In my frequent meetings with leaders of the executive branch, including Yeltsin, I maintained that the foundations of the new economic system could only be laid by parliament. Otherwise the whole process of privatization could be declared illegal in the future. This was the basis of the conflict between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Ten years have now passed, and what do we see? The oil major Yukos, for example, accused of illegalities during privatization. Economic Trade and Development Minister German Gref said on television recently that illegalities could be found in the privatization of 99 percent of Russia's major corporations. Unfortunately, he is right. But neither Gref nor anyone else who has broached this question dares to admit that this is exactly what parliament was fighting with the Yeltsin government about back in the early 1990s.

Another issue that has been much discussed in political circles of late is the fact that Russia's current Constitution clearly violates the principle of the separation of powers by making the president all-powerful, while leaving parliament nearly powerless. In 1992, the Yeltsin team began insisting that the president be vested with greater power at the expense of parliament. At the time, I explained on many occasions that parliaments have always been, and will always be, the heart of any democracy. A country's degree of democratization can be judged first and foremost by the extent of the powers it confers upon parliament. No one was listening. The mentality of the Russian people, and of its leaders, is such that they associate democracy not with the Constitution and laws, but with personalities. In this sense Russia remains a typical Asian country.

Yeltsin's close advisers at the time were gripped by the Pinochet syndrome. Their strategy was simple. Yeltsin needed to disband Khasbulatov's parliament, then concentrate all power in the country in his hands. Having done so, the president could easily implement economic reforms, including privatization, and then bestow a new Constitution upon the people. Overjoyed by their newfound prosperity, the people would greet their leader with ovations.

I derided such childish notions at the time, predicting that the Kremlin's policy would lead to nothing but poverty and lawlessness. There is surely no need to repeat the gloomy statistics of poverty and unemployment in Russia today, or to mention the fact that Russia has no middle class and that the average wage is three times lower than it was in the 1980s, under Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Kremlin's misguided plan for social, political and economic development, implemented after the bureaucratic revanche in the fall of 1993, doomed the majority of the Russian people to lives of grinding poverty. Had reform been carried out along the lines put forward by parliament -- thoughtfully, gradually, without haste, taking the time to learn from our experience -- this tragedy could have been prevented. And Russian capitalism would not have turned into the criminalized, utterly ineffective system we know today.

The disbanding of parliament had other consequences as well. The systematic removal of all checks on the executive branch that followed the October events led to the rapid spread of corruption throughout the government. This trend created extremely favorable conditions for the mutual penetration and eventually the fusion of the state and administrative apparatus with the criminal world.

The Kremlin's two wars in Chechnya also came as a direct result of the attack on parliament in October 1993. Under no circumstances would the parliament have allowed such a war. I can state unequivocally that the disagreements between Moscow and Grozny would have been resolved peacefully. The Kremlin openly supported Dzhokhar Dudayev's separatist policy. It was made clear to Dudayev that if he supported Yeltsin in his confrontation with me and with parliament, Yeltsin would return the favor by granting Chechnya full independence.

In this way the Kremlin carelessly facilitated the outbreak of the intractable conflict in Chechnya, and now it denounces "international terrorism" there, as though it had appeared out of the blue.

And what sort of "presidential election" are the federal authorities preparing for Chechnya? An election in a ghetto, whose results are known in advance. The whole production would be comical if it didn't involve so much bloodshed.

All of this allows us to speak not simply about the emergence of autocratic tendencies in Russia, but about the anti-democratic degeneration of the state and society. This process is clearly visible in the Kremlin's domestic and foreign policy, with its revival of double standards characteristic of the old Soviet party-led system. The influence of the so-called power ministries, and the danger of their arbitrary intervention in the system of property relations, are on the rise as corruption spreads like wildfire through their ranks. The independent press has effectively been eliminated. A handful of publications remain, fighting desperately for the freedom of expression. The people's right to elect its leaders has turned into farce in which money and the power of the government machine determine the outcome. As a result, Russian politics are dominated by non-entities.

The Kremlin has imposed a dangerous policy on the peoples of Russia. And this policy bears little relation to our genuine national interests.

Ruslan Khasbulatov is a correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and head of the World Economics Department at the Russian Economics Academy. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.