Leading Article: Braced for the end of the Yeltsin era

Share
Related Topics
Amid the ruins of Grozny, Boris Yeltsin's political hopes have all but perished over the past few days. The Russian president has looked ineffectual and powerless as rebels have once again captured parts of the Chechen capital. He is embroiled, according to his opponents, in a "second Afghanistan" from which there is no easy escape. The manifest failure of the Russian leadership over the past 15 months, either to crush the independence movement or to negotiate a political solution to the conflict, has shattered Mr Yeltsin's chances of re-election in June.

As a result, the West must brace itself for a Communist to take his place in the Kremlin. Opinion polls indicate that Russian voters will back Gennady Zyuganov, a lifelong Communist who opposes economic liberalisation and has called for a peaceful re-establishment of the former Soviet Union. The disastrous campaign in Chechnya, where 25,000 people have already lost their lives, is the final straw for most Russians already bitter about economic reform which, in the short run, has produced only pain.

All this is making Western governments feel worried. Leaders ranging from Helmut Kohl to Bill Clinton have made clear their preference for Mr Yeltsin, convinced that the Russian president, for all his faults and ill-health, offers the best chance of internal stability, reform and peaceful coexistence with the West. Only last week, the German and French governments announced a $3bn loan to the Russians, on top of the $10bn three-year loan negotiated with the International Monetary Fund.

But the West should not be so concerned about the result of the election, for Mr Yeltsin no longer offers as much as he once promised. The brute force with which he has tackled the Chechen conflict has undermined his democratic credentials.

More important, Mr Zyuganov is far less of a threat than appearances might suggest. For all his talk of resurrecting the Soviet Union, he is committed, at least publicly, to using only peaceful means. And a Russian army that cannot establish control of Chechnya is in no position to realise territorial ambitions in, for example, Ukraine.

As for Mr Zyuganov's economic programme, it is equally unrealistic. Most people may be fed up with privatisation and giving market forces a free rein, but there is no alternative. Most state enterprises have already been sold, creating a powerful class of entrepreneurs and managers who would fight a policy reversal. Nationalisation would also be expensive, beyond the means of the Russian government, which would have to sacrifice its access to the IMF loans if it broke undertakings to limit state spending.

In short, Mr Zyuganov's rhetoric appeals to the nostalgia of an angry and disaffected electorate. But his room for manoeuvre is limited, if he is not to plunge Russia into bankruptcy and international isolation.

Russia is indeed entering a period of political uncertainty. But the West would be wise to stay calm as Mr Yeltsin, its once great hope, faces defeat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT Change – West Sussex – Up to £60k DOE – Permanent

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

KS2 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: Ke...

Foundation Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Our client is seeking to app...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tony Blair gives a speech in 1996  

What the UK needs right now is the radical Tony Blair from the nineties

Christopher Goodfellow
Mark Reckless, a Tory MP, has announced he is defecting to Ukip  

Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless are heroes – and I’m lining up more of them

Nigel Farage
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?