Russians Too Busy and Too Tired to Plot Revolution
If soldiers leave their barracks, it'll be to pick mushrooms, not to rebel, analysts say.
MOSCOW — Looking at Russia's troubled history, one would think the time was ripe for revolution, social uprising, riots, or a least a small coup.
The economy has all but collapsed. The country has been drifting in a power vacuum without a proper government for more than two weeks. Food prices have doubled, some bank accounts are frozen, and thousands of people risk losing their jobs.
But Russia's long-suffering people have grown weary since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. They are too busy hoarding food and trying to get their money out of the banks to protest en masse - either for President Boris Yeltsin or against him.
No one appears more demoralized than the military. The armed forces, heavily funded in Soviet times, are weak and divided. Many troops have been laid off under a government plan to cut their numbers to 1.2 million from 1.7 million. Those who still have jobs have not been paid for months.
Soldiers are more likely to stay in their barracks or go out collecting mushrooms for dinner than revolt, say observers here. They are unlikely to defend Mr. Yeltsin, now widely seen as weak, no longer the heroic figure who defied coup plotters atop a tank in 1991.
"There is no danger of social unrest and no danger of an Army uprising. Russian generals are afraid to be involved in politics," says Sergei Markov at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He and other analysts dismiss as alarmist the rabble-rousing doomsday warnings by opposition politicians that the country is poised near civil war or that the Army is in a mutinying mood.
Military spokesmen also deny rumors that Army units were concentrating around Moscow or that any unusual steps were being taken to reinforce patrols.
Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service, which replaced the KGB, rules out the involvement of the armed forces. "Neither the president, nor the acting prime minister, nor the Duma [lower house of parliament] ... nobody is expecting or preparing such methods to resolve the country's problems," he told journalists.
Analysts here reject speculation in the Russian media that Yeltsin is mobilizing the armed forces to replay 1993, when he dissolved parliament and sent tanks to its building when rebelling legislators refused to leave.
Today, legislators led by the opposition Communists have been refusing to support Yeltsin's choice for prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin. If they fail to approve Mr. Chernomyrdin in three votes and a compromise is not reached, Yeltsin has the constitutional right to disband parliament. Parliament rejected Chernomyrdin for the second time yesterday by a 273 to 138 margin.
But times have changed since 1993. As negotiations continued it remained possible that a compromise might be reached between Yeltsin and the Communists on either finding another candidate or giving parliament some of Yeltsin's near-autocratic powers.
Yeltsin, widely considered to be ailing, lacks credibility with the Russia public and probably the physical strength to try to carry off an armed confrontation. "Compared with 1993, I don't think Yeltsin could do it. The Army might refuse to fulfill his orders, because he's demonstrated his weakness, and the government doesn't exist," says Alexander Zyabrev at the Current Policy Institute, a research center in Moscow. "Trust still existed for Yeltsin and his government then. The main wish of Russians [today] is to freeze, [to] cover our heads with blankets and survive."
Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Yevgeny Ryabtsev agrees that no comparisons can drawn between now and 1993. He says this is partly because the opposition itself has changed tactics. The country was closer to a state of civil war then, having suffered a coup attempt just two years before.
"There are no analogues now. The opposition threatened leaders of the state back then. Now it's more peaceful," he says.
Russians are being remarkably passive, considering that millions of workers have gone unpaid for months. Over the past two weeks, their miseries have been compounded with shortages in shops of some staple items.
BUT riots like those in Indonesia are unlikely here, according to the polling service VTSIOM, based in Moscow. As for mass demonstrations, some observers question whether the Communist opposition will be able to round up widespread support for a national strike it has called for Oct. 7.
VTSIOM's surveys show that social tensions have not increased. The percentage of people prepared to participate in civil disobedience is on par with the months prior to the crisis - 15 to 18 percent. "The polls show that there is no growth of social tension in our society. Instead, they show there is frustration," says Boris Dubin, a VTSIOM pollster.
"All the answers are no. Would you like Yeltsin to continue as president? No. Would you like him to resign immediately? No. Would you like Chernomyrdin as prime minister? No. Would you like anyone else? No."