The death of Yeltsin's dream: the Independent year
Saturday 26 December 1998
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.
Life & Style blogs
Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
Snapchat got rid of the Best Friends feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Hershey's angers US chocolate purists by forcing company to stop importing 'yummy' Cadbury bars
Food secrets: the good, the bad...and the faeces
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Louise Mensch says 'F**K YOU' in explosive tweets about David Cameron, Saudi Embassy and the Queen over King Abdullah tributes
- 2 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent answer to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...
£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...