Rift Grows Among Russian Democrats


WITH neo-Communists and ultranationalists removed from Russia's political arena, there is nothing to stop democratically oriented movements from pushing ahead with reforms except the democrats themselves.

As campaigning begins for the December parliamentary elections, top officials in President Boris Yeltsin's administration are expressing concern about a split in the democratic camp.

Vyacheslav Volkov, deputy presidential chief of staff, on Tuesday called for a truce among competing pro-market political organizations. A democratic alliance is needed to ensure further economic reform, Mr. Volkov said, asserting that neo-Communist and ultranationalist forces still pose a threat to stability, despite presidential bans on their activity.

But if early campaign jockeying is any indication, a united front of democratically oriented organizations may be impossible. Some observers say that given tactical differences and personal ambitions of leading liberal politicians, a widening split is far more likely than a coalition.

``It's an unfortunate trait of Russian politicians to be cannibals,'' said Mikhail Bernshtam, a senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who is advising Russian Economics Minister Yegor Gaidar. ``It is as if there is a permanent search for infidels. They may split and split until there's no one left.''

The greatest potential for a rift in the democratic camp involves its two most influential organizations: the Russia's Choice bloc, an umbrella organization headed by Mr. Gaidar and backed by President Yeltsin; and the Russian Unity and Accord movement, led by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai and supported by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Radical or moderate reform

The spark that could ignite confrontation revolves around philosophical differences on economic reforms within Mr. Chernomyrdin's Cabinet. Ministers holding more radical reform views, including Gaidar and Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, tend to belong to Russia's Choice. Those advocating more moderate policies, including Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, favor Russian Unity and Accord.

Another difference involves regional policy. Some experts say Russia's Choice wants to reassert Moscow's dominance over Russia's 88 autonomy-minded regions, whereas Mr. Shakhrai's movement supports regional aspirations for increased authority.

Leaders of both movements play down the possibility of a split, but personal rivalries may get in the way of pragmatism. The animosity among Cabinet members is long-standing. For example, Privatization Minister Anatoly Chubais, a radical in the Russia's Choice camp, called Shakhrai ``the enemy'' during talks Sept. 18 with leaders from Siberia's Chelyabinsk region, regional officials told the Monitor.

The intramural battle for influence during the campaign could very well carry over after the December parliamentary elections, experts say. Thus there is a danger that the new Federal Assembly may not be able to break the reform gridlock that existed during the dissolved Supreme Soviet's tenure, said Sergei Blagovolin, a Russia's Choice organizer.

In an effort to prevent the reappearance of ``gridlock effect,'' Yeltsin administration officials are seeking to establish the executive branch in an unassailable position. If their ideas are implemented, legislative and judicial restraints on presidential power would be largely eliminated.

Nikolai Medvedev, a top Yeltsin official, suggested provisions in Russia's draft constitution should be altered to enhance presidential power at the expense of the legislature. ``I'm not against the principle of division of powers, but this principle is an ideal variant,'' Mr. Medvedev said. ``There is another variant that should be imposed, taking into account our unfortunate Russian reality.''

Yeltsin has decreed that the adoption of the new constitution will be by popular referendum, to be held in December along with the parliamentary vote. Such a move would shut out the new legislature from the constitutional adoption process.

Yeltsin also seems willing to permit regional governors, whom he appoints, to run for the new parliament. Government ministers already have been given that right. If governors can, too, the new parliament could contain a significant number of members who are beholden to Yeltsin for their positions of power. `Mafia-like behavior'

The Yeltsin administration moves are antagonizing pro-market political organizations not affiliated with the government. For example, the Party of Economic Freedom, led by entrepreneur Konstantin Borovoy, announced that the party will not participate in elections if the draft Constitution is altered.

``Russia cannot exist without a parliament. Otherwise an unlimited mafia-like behavior will prevail, if only the executive branch exists,'' says economist Grigory Yavlinsky, a likely presidential candidate and leader of a moderate movement.

Meanwhile, another possible presidential aspirant, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, attacked the decision to allow ministers to become parliament members, saying, ``The holding of two posts is accepted in many countries, but in Russia it is becoming absurd.''

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