Leading Article: There are few reasons to be pleased by the result of the Russian election

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The Independent Culture
THE VICTORY in Russia's parliamentary elections for the pro-government Unity Party weakens the Communists, who are no longer the strongest group in the Russian parliament. That in itself is a sort of progress. The Communists will no longer be able to hold the Kremlin to ransom.

Sunday's parliamentary poll has bolstered the position of President Boris Yeltsin and of the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, Mr Yeltsin's preferred successor in the presidential elections next year. In the West, this is seen as, in some ways, good news. President Yeltsin's role in resisting the Communist coup eight years ago gave him substantial political credit in the West that has survived to this day.

In the intervening years, however, it has become clear that Mr Yeltsin and his allies are as much part of the problem as they are part of the solution. Waging wars always helps politicians to win unwinnable elections, even in stable democracies - as Baroness Thatcher discovered after the Falklands War in 1982. But the Chechnya factor is on a different scale from anything that helped Lady Thatcher back to power. The Russian forces have bombed and killed civilians in flagrant disregard of the most elementary standards, while telling astonishing lies. It is for this that they have been rewarded by the voters. The Communists (despite increasing their own share of the vote) have partly lost out to the pro-government forces because the government has behaved so badly. The liberal Yabloko ("Apple") coalition, led by the economist Grigory Yavlinsky, may yet have a role to play in the new parliamentary coalition. But it will not be a substantial player: it gained a mere 6 per cent of Sunday's vote.

The propaganda apparatus has gone into full swing in recent weeks, attacking the "traitors" (in other words, critics of the Chechnya campaign) on a daily basis. The election results demonstrate a simple truth. In the words of The Moscow Times: "Propaganda works." The official talk is of a "peaceful revolution". In reality, we are seeing a depressing status quo.

That situation cannot last indefinitely. Eventually propaganda will backfire. Wars are attractive to the voters when they seem to end in victory; less so when they end (as this one ultimately will) in humiliating defeat. The Russians will capture Grozny in the short term. Given the extent of their military capability, how could they not? In the medium and long term, however - that is a different matter. In due course, the Russian forces will find themselves pinned down, harried and destroyed by Chechen rebels, whose mass support has been so bolstered by the Kremlin's actions in recent weeks. The generals are publicly jubilant today. But the Russian conscript army has neither the stamina nor the morale to resist the highly motivated rebels in the longer term.

The truly lunatic politicians are no longer winners in the Russian system. The fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, one of the most popular men in Russia just a few years ago, won only 6 per cent. For such small mercies we should be truly grateful. For the moment, it is the cynics - including Mr Putin, a former KGB spy - who appear to have done best. If and when Russia loses Chechnya (again), the government and the generals will have to confront the weakness of their position. Eventually, they must deal with the sickness that they have helped to create.