Will Russia survive its economic and political crisis?
September 17, 1998
in this forum:
Is Primakov the right man for the job? What does the appointment of Primakov mean for Russia's relations with the West ? What should the United States and the West do to help Russia get through this crisis? What does the average Russian think about the current crisis? Can the appointment of Primakov be interpreted as a defeat for the reformist policies of Yeltsin? Is there any possibility that Yeltsin will dismantle the monopolies?
Richard Williams of Madison, WI, asks: Is Primakov the right man for the job? Can he lead Russia out of its current malaise?
Leon Aron, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, responds:
Under the very tough political constraints within which Yeltsin was operating, Primakov was the best choice. In appointing him, Yeltsin avoided the two extreme scenarios: a) a (quote possibly) violent confrontation with the Duma a la 1993, if he had submitted the Chernomyrdin candidacy for the third time and then attempted to dissolve the Duma and schedule a legislative election; b) a total surrender, if he had asked a Communist leader (Yuri Maslyukov, Gennady Zyuganov, or Yegor Stroyev) to form a government.
While Primakov faces enormous challenges in terms of economic rescue, at the very least he stopped (or interrupted) Russia's slide toward chaos and disintegration of the entire constitutional edifice erected in 1993.
Michael McFaul, assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, responds:
Given the other options available at the time of his appointment, Primakov may have best choice. Yurii Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, was a stronger candidate who would have formed a stronger government (for better or worse), but the rumor in Moscow was that Yeltsin's family disapproved of Luzhkov as they feared for their long-term security should Luzhkov have become prime minister and then president. (Allegedly, one of Luzhkov's conditions for taking power was that Yeltsin would resgin sooner rather than later, and then new presidential elections would be held.)
I do not believe that Primakov will be able to pull Russia out of its current economic crisis. Prime minister Primakov and his new team of Gorbachev-era ministers plan to assign a greater role for the state in managing the economy. Strapped for cash after defaulting on its debt, the government will print money and thereby fuel inflation. To control inflation, the new Russian government will introduce wage and price controls; some governors already have done so. Eventually, this set of policies will produce shortages, rationing coupons, and a black market. The question then will be what comes next-- a genuine attempt to address Russia's economic problems or an even more anti-market regime?