The Guardian August 18, 1999


Russia:
Yeltsin manoeuvres while support for Communism grows

Boris Yeltsin's dismissal of Sergei Stepashin as Prime Minister has 
brought more instability and chaos to the country at a time when war by 
Islamic fundamentalists on the borders of Chechnya and Dagestan is being 
whipped up and NATO manouevres to cut off Russia from the oil-rich former 
Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Stepashin had just returned from Dagestan and before that had made a 
controversial visit to the USA, an unpopular move in the wake of NATO's war 
on Yugoslavia.

His predecessor, Evgenny Primakov, had been en route to the US when NATO 
started bombing and had turned his plane around and returned to Moscow in 
protest.

There had been talk that Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov intended 
to take action in the Duma to prosecute Stepashin for threats to Russian 
democracy he made during his US trip, but Zyuganov has labelled Stepashin's 
sacking "a blow to the whole country".

While in the US, Stepashin fuelled speculation that Yeltsin is planning to 
provoke a state of emergency when he confided to the entourage of Vice-
President (and Presidential candidate) Al Gore that the Russian Government 
would "use the security organs, if we have to, to stop the Communist Party 
from coming to power".

It is rumoured that Yeltsin actually signed the decree to declare a state 
of emergency in April but that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia intervened.

It may also have been intended as a retaliatory measure if the Duma had 
carried its impeachment motion against Yeltsin.

Under a state of emergency, Yeltsin could cancel the parliamentary 
elections in December and the presidential elections in May-June 2000.

Yeltsin had also been canvassing the alternative idea of his defying the 
constitution and standing for another term, but his chances of winning 
would be slim indeed.

It is estimated that $200 million was spent to secure Yeltsin's election 
last time. (George Bush Jr, by comparison, will spend around $70 million in 
his effort to win the US White House.)

Yeltsin now appears to be pursuing a different tactic, naming his new Prime 
Minister, Vladimir Putin, as his "preferred successor" in next year's 
election.

Meanwhile, the attacks on the Communists and on all progressive political 
figures are becoming more intense as support for the Communists grows 
across the board in Russia.

Previous PM Primakov, easily the most capable and honest man to have held 
the PM's job and the first who might have achieved some positive turnaround 
in the country's fortunes, is clearly too hostile to the interests of the 
new financial oligarchs whom Yeltsin has helped to pillage billions from 
the country's wealth. 

He has been vilified in a spate of attacks including ludicrous allegations 
of bribe-taking.

Also part of this anti-Communist campaign are the almost daily threats by 
the Kremlin to remove Lenin's body from its mausoleum and "give him a 
proper burial".

The anti-Lenin propaganda emanating continuously from the Yeltsin camp has 
had some effect. In a recent poll, 80 percent chose Leonid Brezhnev as "the 
greatest Russian leader this century".

This result also reflected a growing awareness that for most people life in 
the USSR during Brezhnev's term as President was much better than any time 
in the last decade.

In the elections for governor of Sverdlovsk, where Yeltsin comes from, the 
favoured candidate is Leonid Brezhnev's son, Andrei, who has formed his own 
political party dedicated to reviving what he terms the "prosperity and 
vitality of the Brezhnev era".

In another recent poll, the majority of respondents "regretted" the 
collapse of the Soviet Union, although less for ideological reasons than 
for the loss of national prestige and superpower status that it entailed.

The anti-Communist campaign is becoming more strident, partly because it 
isn't working any more. There is very little overt anti-Communism to be met 
with among ordinary people.

Luzhkov, the populist Mayor of Moscow and a Presidential hopeful, has been 
making overtures to the Communists in recent months about an alliance.

Another disturbing factor for the anti-Communist camp is the fact that the 
Communist Party's electorate appears to be renewing itself.

Once deemed to be finite and doomed to disappear as it aged, it is now 
riding a groundswell of support among young people, 18-25 year olds in 
particular.

At a recent lecture in Moscow, Gaidar, the first post-Soviet Prime 
Minister, quoted a poll showing that prior to NATO's war on Yugoslavia 95 
percent of young Muscovites had some pro-Western sentiments, but that now 
the figure was closer to only 50 percent.

These developments have imperialism scared rigid.

Back to index page