Leading Article: Yeltsin stakes everything for Russia's survival

Share
Related Topics
THIS ought to be the decisive moment in the Russian crisis, the historical turning point at which one side wins, paralysis ends and a new course is set. Historians may accord it that status. Today, however, it is difficult to make out through the fog of battle the outline of a simple resolution. Mr Yeltsin says he will go ahead with his referendum on 25 April and has stripped the legislature of its powers. Legislators say this is illegal and threaten to impeach him. He says they have no power to do so.

Thus the deadlock that has paralysed the country for more than a year remains unresolved. The conflict is, however, shifting from debate to action. Between now and 25 April, officials and local politicians down the line and out in the regions will have to decide whether to carry out the referendum. This will be the first test of Mr Yeltsin's authority. If a substantial number refuse, he will be fatally weakened. If a sufficient number agree, the power of decision then shifts to the voters.

Most of the local worthies will make their choice on the basis of which position is most likely to preserve their power and privilege. That is what a great deal of the struggle is about, and why so much of the legislature blocks Mr Yeltsin. Slower reforms leave more members of the old apparatus in their jobs for longer. But if the perception spreads that Mr Yeltsin is winning, it might be a better career move to jump quickly into his camp. Many provincial politicians will have sleepless nights.

If the people get the chance to vote, the outcome will be just as uncertain. Apathy is widespread, and Mr Yeltsin's popularity has fallen a long way from its peak after the abortive coup of August 1991. Opinion polls suggest that he still has more support than the legislature, but he needs a reasonably decisive result to swing the tide in his favour. He is therefore taking a huge leap into the dark. He may be encouraged by polls that find overwhelming admiration for Peter the Great. Although a tyrant, Peter was at least a Westerniser.

The simplest justification for what Mr Yeltsin is doing is that he has left himself with no alternative. He has made one compromise after another and allowed his authority to be whittled away. He was getting the blame not only for the inevitable disruption caused by the reforms, but also for the catastrophic inflation and hardship that are in large part the result of his reforms being blocked.

Western opinion must therefore strive to avoid simplifying the issues. This is not a struggle between a would-be dictator and a democratic parliament. Nor is it entirely between reform and regression. The lines of allegiance and ideology criss-cross in all directions. Mr Yeltsin at the moment represents the best hope of progress towards democracy and a market economy, even if he is now being somewhat economical with constitutionality. It is, however, his reformist policies, not his person, that should command Western support. If the two part company, some rethinking will be necessary. And if he falls, deeply worrying though this would be, his successor would not necessarily be evil incarnate. In no country is it unknown for opposition figures to change their views when facing the realities of responsibility. This is not to underestimate the depths of the crisis or the dangers that lie within it but merely to acknowledge its complexity.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own