Order in Russia and Pakistan
new order is taking birth in Russia. It is led by younger, sharper and
more self-confident elements who have dreams of reviving Russia to the
position and glory that its size, resources and history entitle it to.
This leadership aims to be seen and heard in the councils of the nations
and means to influence the politics of the world and the region.
7th May 2000 Mr.Vladimir Putin will be inaugurated as the second
democratically elected President of Russia. Earlier on Sunday 26th March
some 78 million out of nearly 108 million registered voters had gone to
the polls to elect a president from a list of eleven candidates. About 53%
voted for Mr. Putin. Mr. Gannady Zyuganov of the Communist Party finished
second with less than 30% votes while the liberal Yabloko candidate Mr.
Grigory Yavlinsky polled about 6%. The other eight candidates shared the
remaining 11% or so of the votes.
Not exactly. Fifth largest vote getter did not have a name. Nearly 2%
voters numbering over 1.3 million rejected the whole panel. These people
belong to that substantial but silent part of the populace who represent
the current mood of Russia. Disillusioned and dissatisfied at the way
things have gone in post communist Russia they are mad at the incompetence
and greed of the new leadership that emerged out of the ruins of Soviet
state. They are equally disenchanted with the West for having promised an
El Dorado that is nowhere in sight. A large segment, especially the
veterans of Russia’s wars and production campaigns are nostalgic of the
security and orderliness of the communist era. Together these two elements
have the potential to destabilise but mercifully for the Russian
democracy, few are willing to return to the regimentation and stagnation
of the days gone by. Not even those who voted for the Communist candidate.
However, their impatience with the corruption and unending experimentation
that became the hallmark of Yeltsin presidency is patent and cannot be
overstated. The sum total is that through impressive turnout and voting
pattern the people have indicated their preference for democracy,
administered an admonition to the political establishment and at the same
time clearly signalled the need for a quick upturn in the economy and real
Vladimir Putin must be credited for having read the mood of the people
correctly. He ran no campaign, criticised none of his opponents, made no
promises but through language of deeds dared the people to judge his
potential from his brief record as Prime Minister. He had demonstrated
sharper decision making, effective control of governmental machinery and
willingness to exert to impose his will on the recalcitrant elements. An
all round improvement in efficiency and productivity was the result.
luck has also been on the side of Mr. Putin. Chechenya was the turning
point. Russian Army conducted a well-planned and executed campaign in the
rebellious republic. Stock of
Mr. Putin soared in the public eye despite the unceasing talk that
Chechenya was in fact engineered. Mr. Shamyl Bassayev’s foray into
Dagestan, for example, ended precisely on the date set in the ultimatum
from Mr. Putin i.e. 31st August 1999. The bombers of Moscow’s
residential flats have yet to be tracked down. In any case involvement of
Chechens has not been established. Capture of Mr. Salman Raduyev without
exchange of fire from under the nose of his one hundred strong detachment
of bodyguards shows the extent of penetration of Russian intelligence into
the rank and file of rebels. All this and the recent capture of close
subordinates of Mr. Khattab tend to strengthen the theory of complicity.
Whatever the case, Mr. Vladimir Putin did reap the benefit and is well
ensconced in the Kremlin. He will now need to do something quickly to
Chechenya, economy and the Russian ego.
first. The republic is more or less under control. Of course it will be
foolish to assume immediate return of complete peace but it does seem
doubtful if active rebellion can be much extended at an intense level.
Lack of safe base in a neighbouring territory makes the survival of
guerrilla operations a difficult proposition. Kremlin is already working
on the post rebellion political set up that will be charged with the task
of rebuilding the republic’s infrastructure. Mr. Putin’s initiative to
get Chechen leaders around a table may eventually get under way this
summer. The difficulty is that Moscow has so far been unwilling to talk to
the elected President of Chechenya Mr. Aslan Maskhadov. Other credible
leaders have not yet been lined up.
Maskhadov has tried hard to re-establish his credentials and demonstrate
his distance from the Shamyl - Khattab duo ever since the two strayed into
Dagestan but it has not improved his stock with the Russians. In a recent
statement to Kommersant Mr. Maskhadov asserted that he had ordered troops
under his command to halt attacks on the Russian forces. In a pointed
reference to the duo he said that anyone who does not comply would be
declared an outlaw. He also showed readiness to free all Russian prisoners
and put no pre-conditions for the peace talks. The Russians remain
unconvinced of his intentions and leadership. “Chechens are only
changing their tactics so as to gain time and regroup’’ says
Russia’s top civilian envoy in Chechenya Mr. Nikolai Koshman.
is the hitch? Do the difficulties pertain to the accommodation of some
invisible factions? If so, the theory of complicity of the same set of
oligarchs who managed victory for Boris Yeltsin in the previous elections
is strengthened. If that were so a speedy solution may prove a little more
elusive and bring tremendous pressure on the presidency from internal and
European human rights groups.
casualties in the war have neared the eight thousand mark, 2,000 dead and
6,000 wounded. Occasional guerilla successes reverberate ever so loudly in
the media and the corridors of power. Some words of comfort from the
Generals are fed to the people off and on. A few weeks ago Colonel General
Valery Manilov the First Deputy Chief of Armed Forces General Staff spoke
of reduction of troop levels and change in the level of engagement.
According to him troop strength had been reduced from100,000 to 80,000.
Operationally Russian forces were henceforth to concentrate on the conduct
of special operations to capture leaders and vital targets, as large-scale
assaults were no longer necessary. And then immediately after a few days
Mr. Putin announced the dispatch of additional troops to the war zone as a
response to a guerilla ambush that had caused some two dozen Russian
casualties. In real terms, reinforcements and withdrawals are both
meaningless without an accompanying change in strategic plans. Militarily
a stalemate may already have arrived in Chechenya. On the other hand political pressures are beginning to gather
mass and momentum. Effects of suspension of Russia’s voting rights in
the European Assembly, Mary Robinson’s continuing campaign and Tony
Blair’s input cannot be ignored for long.
the field of economy Mr. Putin’s problems lie with the monopolists, a
very large informal sector that submits to no laws and pays no taxes and
an inadequate legal structure. Even within these constraints the economy
performed well in the last six months. Government sources hastily declared
6% growth rate. Mr. Putin, too, got carried away and put the figure at 8%.
This is of course disputed by experts who put it at nearer the 4% mark.
Either way there is evidence of substantial movement forward.
Mr. Putin’s economic advisors predict a 10% per annum growth rate
in the coming years. Critics are again sceptical. For that kind of growth,
in addition to substantial expatriate funds much of the stacked away
Russian money will have to be brought back for capital investment.
Additionally the unrelenting flight of capital will have to be checked and
smuggling rooted out. According to estimates 18 billion dollars per year
go out from the country. Behind
this flight of capital are some of the most powerful personalities in the
realm - the so-called oligarchs who control the monopolies. They also
manage to keep over 30% exports and imports out of government control.
This is done through ‘one day’ companies that in 1999 alone made
16,000 contracts worth billions and disappeared. At humbler level
‘Khaipias’ a South Asian word for those foreign merchants who carry
their merchandise on their backs and sell at informal market places known
in Russia as ‘Renoks’ run riot with the organised trade. They pay no
taxes to the state but do pay protection money to the local agents of the
oligarchs or powerful Government personalities.
the sake of propriety the President-elect has tried to keep a distance
from the oligarchs but evidence of their influence is clear. Ultimately he
may have to compromise for the sake of country’s economic recovery and
perhaps his own survival. Indications of this were available aplenty when
Mr. Putin had to invite the feuding heads of two monopolies, Mr. Rem
Vyakhirev of Gazprom (Gas) and Mr. Anatoly Chubais of UES (Electricity) to
meet him to avoid a major crisis in electric supply. The scene captured by
the cameras was instructive. Diminutive Vyakhirev and stately Chubais both
were sitting back snug in their seats while the President-elect was seen
on the edge of the chair as if pleading desperately.
lies the crux of Putin’s economy problem. How to bring the monopolies
under control and turn robber baronism to legitimate capitalism for some
trickle down benefits to reach common people?
To some it looks an impossible task. The oligarchs like Mr.
Berezovsky,Chubais, Abramovitch and others are very clever and capable of
effective defiance. The pragmatist Mr. Putin is not likely to challenge
them in a hurry. He will probably wait till he has built a counter force.
Wielders of political power can and often do outmanoeuvre economic giants.
In Russia, the power of the barons can be balanced or even nullified by
the Army. Playing the military card will also serve to massage the
national ego. To day Mr. Putin’s support in the forces is substantial.
But continuation of that support calls for another kind of price from the
Forces of Russia have suffered incessantly from budget cuts. Chechenya
’99 restored their funds and prestige to a large extent. They now
clamour for more money for research and experimentation to update their
weapon systems to be worthy of a first rate power. In the backdrop of
these internal pulls the Russian Duma has ratified the CTBT and the
Government is showing readiness to commence negotiations on START III.
Russians, however, do insist that Americans put off deployment of their
anti-ballistic missile defence system and ask for no amendments to the
1972 missile treaty. If that does not come about the Russian militarywill
be justified in demanding a go-ahead at full throttle for modernization of
weapons’ technologies. That should give a pause. Russian economy is not
yet capable of bearing the burden. To balance that the Russians are
launching a huge arms sales programme. Wanna buy
- make a try.
profile of military will have some ramifications on the foreign policy
also. Having been effectively blocked in Central Europe and frustrated in
the Balkans the Russian military would insist on a diplomatic policy that
would ensure consolidation of friendly regimes in Eastern Europe and
Central Asia (just short of reincorporating), reopening of doors into
Middle East through Iraq and Iran and an access to the waters of the
Indian Ocean through India. Appropriate initiatives in Iraq and Iran are
under way. Reportedly Mr. Primakov the Middle East expert is being offered
a high place in the foreign office. Mr. Putin is visiting India in October
in pursuit of Indo-Russian strategic friendship if anything is left of it
after Mr.Clinton’s visit.
that scheme of Russia, Pakistan that stands out as a strategic highground
in the region would seem to have been left out in the cold. Not exactly if
you care to read the thin print of their policy. The Russians cannot and
will not make the mistake of leaving Pakistan as an open free ground for
the West to play their games. The Soviet Union had made that blunder in
the seventies and reaped the harvest in the eighties.
given the history of Russo-Pakistani relations the Russians cannot but be
circumspect. They seem to be aiming to reopen their political dialogue
through the more innocuous route of trade. On 30th March only days after
President Clinton’s visit to India, Pakistan and Russia exchanged
letters regarding the establishment of Intergovernmental Commission. When
established, the Commission will act as a catalyst for improving trade
between the two countries, which now amounts to only 40 million dollars
per annum. ‘This is a very small amount and Russia is not satisfied with
it’ said Mr. M.M. Fradkov the Trade Minister of the Russian Federation
at the letter signing ceremony. Mr.
Mansoor Alam the Ambassador of Pakistan responded in the same vein and
invited Russians to hold Commission’s first meeting in Islamabad in
May/June this year. Earlier in December 1999, the Russians showing great
understanding, initialled an agreement to develop an agreed mechanism of
settling the outstanding claims of Pakistani companies related to freight
adjustment operations. Russia’s metallurgical industry is also waiting
for improved ambience to reoccupy its place of pre-eminence as suppliers
of sparesand machinery to Pakistan Steel for upgradation and expansion of
production facilities. It also goes for Russian power plants of WAPDA and
locomotives and rolling stock of Pakistan Railways. Pakistan can export
textiles and madups, rice, medicines, surgical and medical equipment,
sports and leather goods in addition to other countless value added
products. The potential of trade between the two countries is currently
estimated at 200 million dollars per year. If we can create large enough
Russian trading interests in our country it will certainly have reciprocal
effects on their diplomacy in the region.
this context if appropriate overtures are forthcoming the policymakers in
Islamabad should embrace the opportunity with open arms. The disturbance
in the equilibrium of power in the region caused recently by a sudden turn
in US policy and a certain amount of thaw in the Indo-Chinese relations
can be corrected with introduction of a counter balancing force from the
heart of Asia. This is the scenario that alone will ensure our security.
‘Let us not miss the Volga Express’ said a Pakistani embassy official
in Moscow. The new order in Russia perhaps needs us today for its own
reasons. Tomorrow may be another day. Unfortunately, Pakistani Press has
been awash with reproductions from Western press that failed to see the
new president in any garb other than that of KGB spy. What nonsense. When
Mr. Putin calls for action to establish the dictatorship of law the
heralds of Europe deliberately misconstrue the point and call him a
dictator in the making. Now what is wrong with trying to establish the
supremacy of law? The fact is the unscrupulous businessmen from the West
have been looting Russia for the last ten years by exploiting the failure
of the institutions of the state. Any effort to establish the rule of law
is bound to be against their interests and hence all this hue and cry in