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6. Conflicts in and around Russia


6. Conflicts in and around Russia


In 1995 Russia and most of the other post-Soviet states
were able to avoid major domestic disturbance, although this was often achieved
by consolidating the elements of authoritarianism, undermining the emergence
of civil society and the rule of law, and downgrading the principles of
human rights and democratic government. Even so, the political élites seemed
increasingly to proceed from the assumption of the need to have their power
legitimized by popular vote.

President Boris Yeltsin's administration continued to proclaim
its commitment to reform and consolidation - although the reforms increasingly
amount to the redistribution of property among and within powerful interest
groups and the emerging market economy is highly centralized, bureaucratized,
corrupt and criminalized. The government claimed some successes in financial
stabilization and a lower rate of decline of industrial production, but
was under constant pressure because of the danger of social unrest and the
threat of the restoration of the 'old regime'. Against this background,
elements of outward assertiveness can be seen both as a compensation for
domestic failures and as a manifestation of the government's responsiveness
to the success of its political opponents.

The war in Chechnya continued to be the most painful development.
Large-scale hostilities and violence continued, homes and civilian property
were destroyed, hostages were taken and a considerable refugee problem developed.
Efforts at political settlement were incoherent and Moscow used all available
means to preserve Russia's integrity - a signal which seems to be both inward-
and outward-oriented.

The other conflicts on the territory of the former USSR
continued in less confrontational forms than in the recent past, Tajikistan
being the dramatic exception. Russia has become less erratic and more pragmatic
in its policy, has stopped undermining the territorial integrity of its
CIS partners and has denied support to separatist forces and pressured them
to accept autonomous status within federative-type arrangements. The CIS
countries are expected to repay this through loyalty to Russia - in some
cases up to the point of accepting its military presence on their territories.

While welcoming the symbolic involvement of the UN and
the OSCE in peace-settlement efforts, Russia aims to consolidate its own
role as the most efficient external pacifier and the major actor in the
conflict areas. It has proceeded from the principle that the post-Soviet
space is an area of vital national interest to it and has succeeded in getting
de facto recognition of this by the international community.

Strengthening Russia's position in some strategically important
areas of the 'near abroad' is a high priority. Special emphasis is given
to consolidation within the CIS framework, both politically and militarily.
Russia has signed over 200 military-related agreements with the CIS countries;
36 were concluded in 1995, including those creating a joint air defence
system and promoting cooperation in protecting the external CIS borders.

Developments within the CIS in 1995 have contributed to
enhance Russia's role, but there is no reason yet to regard the CIS as an
emerging superstructure which could come to resemble the USSR or even re-establish
it as the 'USSR minus the Baltics'. The CIS states are not being subordinated
to Russia's leadership; acceptance of its prominent role co-exists with
a cautious but persistent search for alternatives by almost all the actors
in the area. Nor are there sufficient grounds to consider the CIS as a multilateral
military alliance in the making.

Russia's increasing role in the post-Soviet space could
contribute to international stability by marginalizing conflicts and reducing
their scope. Russia seems to consider this as instrumental to other goals,
such as consolidating its great-power status, counterbalancing NATO enlargement
and changing the former Western-oriented policy line. This would not necessarily
mean re-establishing a confrontational pattern in Russia's relations with
other countries, but might allow it to take a more independent stance in
the international arena with a more diversified political agenda.