The death of Yeltsin's dream: the Independent year

Russia's Crisis

THIS WAS the year in which the West saw the death of its Russian dream. Words such as "reform" and "free market" became as enfeebled as Boris Yeltsin.

A year ago Mr Yeltsin's government and its western supporters could at least brandish several concrete achievements.A stable currency. Low inflation. A small, but thriving, stock market. These have now fallen apart.

The end came in August when Russia abandoned its efforts to defend the currency (despite billions of IMF dollars), and defaulted on its internal debt. The banking system seized up, slamming its doors on millions of depositors. The rouble crashed to less than a third of its value. Saddest of all Russians saw theirsavings and long-delayed wage arrears shrivel away, condemning them to even more abject poverty.

Only five months earlier Mr Yeltsin had recruited an unheard-off, 35- year-old energy minister to replace his veteran premier, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Sergei Kiriyenko was a picture of a bewildered bank clerk. Yet within weeks, western diplomats were privately hailing his government, with its team of hard-headed market economists, as the most promising in Russia's post-Soviet history.

Not for long. August's debacle led to his sacking. Into his seat came the weathered arch-pragmatist and former Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, and a "nomenklatura" cabinet whose chief characteristics are plodding caution, a respect for Soviet methods, and suspicion of western remedies. Mr Primakov is now running the show. How could it be otherwise? Mr Yeltsin started the year with a respiratory infection, and was regularly troubled by illness and bouts of confusion.Though he may make it to the end of his term in 2000, history seems certain to show that the Yeltsin era fizzled out in 1998.

So what does 1999 hold? There is precious little cause for optimism. As the rouble printing presses roll, inflation will worsen and, with it, the economic pressure on an already deeply beleaguered population. GDP next year is expected to be about that of Belgium. Corruption shows no sign of abating. And political extremism is on the rise. The Communists may not have expanded their (frozen) electoral base but they are in triumphant mood, savouring the rout of the pro-western "reformers".

Democracy is making no real headway in Russia's regions. This year saw an attempt to kill Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze; a deeply flawed election in Azerbaijan, and a crackdown on opposition forces in Kazakhstan. The most depressing event came in St Petersburg with the murder of Galina Starovoitova, standard-bearer of liberal democracy.

Was there anything to celebrate? Yes, but not much. Mr Yeltsin buried the Romanovs with real dignity. Parliament emerged stronger, having defeated Mr Yeltsin over his choice of a replacement for Mr Kiriyenko, a positive step in a nation where the constitution vests huge powers in the president.

And, although Mr Primakov is far from the ideal figure to lead Russia from its benighted state, he is not the knee-jerk Soviet, the "hardline spy master" that some in the West portray him to be.

The coming year will see an acceleration in the search for a successor to Boris Yeltsin. The only other candidates who stand a chance are the Communist, Gennady Zyuganov; Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, and General Alexander Lebed.

But they are much more alarming, to western liberal democratic eyes, than the wily and elderly, but safe, Mr Primakov.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Manager,Conduct Risk,London,£5-600pd

    £500 - £600 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

    £450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

    Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

    £20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

    Nursery Nurse

    £7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on