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?
Matt Roberts of Vienna, VA, asks: Can the appointment of Primakov be interpreted as a defeat for the reformist policies of Yeltsin?
Leon Aron, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, responds:
To add to my response to Question 1 above: the appointment of Primakov signifies a major weakening not only of the reform policies of 1992-1998 but, perhaps even more alarmingly, a de facto constitutional coup d'etat: the installation of a government responsible to the parliament, rather than the President. Given very deep ideological divisions in the Duma and its inability to form a working majority on anything except opposition to the President, a government controlled by the Duma could lead to a paralysis of power. I honestly wish this prediction be wrong but the Duma's record until now gives little ground for optimism.
Michael McFaul, assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, responds:
I do not understand why everyone casts the latest government as a "return to the Communists." Almost every major figure named so far has served previously in a Yeltsin government, including the prime minister and the two top deputy prime ministers. Only one of the new deputy prime ministers -- Vladimir Ryshkov -- is serving for the first time under Yeltsin and he is from Chernomyrdin's party, Our Home Is Russia.
There is a very different way of understanding the present government, i.e. that it represents continuity with the same old strategy of muddling through without pursuing any policy reform. This reminds me very much of the stagnant years of the Chernomyrdin years, not the stagnant years of the Brezhnev years. Why those who have been so critical of the last several years should now be upbeat at this "change in course" is a bit baffling to me.
To me, it looks like the same old crowd that began asserting their influence over economic policy in Russia circa Apri1 1992 and have been in the driver's seat ever since. The short-lived Gaidar months in power (January 1992-April 1992) and the short-lived Kiryenko government (April 1998-August 1998) represent the aberrations -- the attempts at changing course. This new government represents continuity, dating really as far back as 1989-90 through to the present. After all, didnt Chernomyrdin come to power in December 1992 under very similar political circumstances? The same people in Russia and the West who hoped for a a centrist alternative in December 1992 celebrated Chernomyrdin's initial rise to power when he was backed by Civic Union and other "centrists" of the day. What's the big difference politically this time around? (The differences in economic terms are much more stark in that Primakov inherits a situation much worse than Chernomyrdin did in 1992).
Do not misunderstand me. I see no alternative to this kind of government under the current conditions and I wish them well. But I personally do not see this new government as a break with "Yeltsinism." It's the same, a fact that will disappoint both critics of Yeltsin on both the left and the right.