Chechnya: A Painful Price

IN THE FINAL TALLY, THE COSTS of the war in Chechnya will go far beyond the obvious loss of human lives and resources. By shattering the relative peace that characterized Russian politics after the election of the new parliament, the conflict has threatened Russia’s fragile political order and jeopardized future reforms. President Boris Yeltsin has concentrated power within the executive branch, but it is not clear if he alone controls this power – and if he does, how much longer he will be able to hold on to it. The parliament has not been able to exercise even the limited oversight responsibilities it was granted in the 1993 constitution; outlying regions have become increasingly restless; and the war is likely to wreak havoc on Russia’s economy. There is one bright spot: in the face of intense government pressure, the media has continued to report the realities of the war and to publish openly critical statements from citizens. But perhaps most significantly, the conflict has dramatically reshaped the Russian political spectrum in the months leading up to the December 1995 parliamentary and June 1996 presidential elections. By influencing the outcome of the elections, the decision to send troops into Grozny could affect Russian political development into the next century. …