Home pageAdvanced searchIndexe-mailAdd to favorites
Books by Grigory Yavlinsky
The Center for Economic and Political Research (EPIcenter)
Moscow, May 1992


The events of August 18-22, 1991 are being rationalized now with different approaches. From the viewpoint of prospects for democratic reformation of the country and its economic transformation the events marked a watershed, bringing on a rise of the disintegration tendency and a fall of the integration tendency.

As a result of the putschists' actions, the process started in Novo-Ogaryovo was stalled. The resulting emancipation of the central (USSR power was most favourable for the release of centrifugal forces in the republics. The collapse of the communist ideology in the heart of the country brought in its wake a reorientation of the neocommunist forces in the provinces toward a coalition with traditionally strong nationalist movements (Ukraine) or toward conservation of the regime by means of sovereignization (some of the Muslim Central Asian republics). After August 1991 the disintegration had already firmly gripped the entire political system of the Soviet Union: all the union republics proclaimed themselves to be sovereign states; the process of preparation of their international recognition as such had got underway; and the union parliament effectively announced its auto-disbandment.

During that time, the disintegration processes destabilizing the political system became quite pronounced in Russia itself. They hit not only state structures but also the entire social organism, including all its political institutions.

In multiethnic regions, ethnic differentiation started. It manifested itself in: a change of the existing statehood status (Tatarstan, Chechen Lands, and Bashkortostan claimed independence), and territorial disputes between ethnic groups (Kabardians and Balkarians, Chechens and Ingushes and Cossacks, Ingushes and Ossets, between Daghestan peoples, etc.). Relations between indigenous people in national autonomous entities and non-indigenous Russians have become a painful issue.

An isolationist tendency emerged in Russian-populated Siberia and the Far East. Economic separatism (the banning of export of domestic production) caused political conflicts (a "blockade" against Moscow).

Pro-democracy parties lost their former common enemy after the fall of the CPSU. Differences in their programmes and between their leaders personally which were largely ignored in the teeth of the shared threat of the rival communist party came to the fore after the communist defeat in the course of the August events.

The opposition's situation didn't help stabilize Russia's political system either: there was no civilized force to keep the political balance.

The army, police forces and state security agencies were becoming disoriented as well: they didn't know whose orders to take and who to protect from who) and ridden with disorganization (desertion from the ranks, theft and unauthorized sale of property, massive dismissals from service). All that was aggravated by a lack of social, legal, and even physical protection.

Russia's political elite was a conglomeration of the former party bureaucrats and leaders of the democratic movement. The new elite's relations with regional powers were rather uncertain: direct command lines had been broken but were not yet replaced by new ties.

After the political suicide of the USSR Centre, only the Russian leaders could come out as the integrating force for the sake of the reform.

The most sensible approach would have been to immediately take steps aimed at slowing down the disintegration by tearing apart both the USSR's and Russia's political systems.Russia's leaders could have ridden on and embarked on a resolute policy to that end right after the putsch.

Corresponding steps were suggested: the signing of an economic agreement by the republics; the continuation of control over vital systems like defence, state security, banking, power engineering, science, and transportation, and development of a joint pro-reform policy. Early elections in Russia right after the putsch could have been most helpful here. This course would have averted further disintegration of the Russian Federation.

However, the Russian leaders opted for a different scenario: total collapse of all coordinating structures and reform uncoordinated with those taking place in other republics.

The next watershed was left behind: disintegration processes got the better of the integration ones - Russia announced a separate course.

That decision was not fathered by Russia's leaders alone, but they played a decisive role in its promotion.

Russia was officially a sovereign but in reality a semi-state entity surrounded by similar entities and facing corroding disintegration.

Russia's leaders didn't elaborate on what they were going to undertake in that new situation, but it is reasonable to suppose that they had some kind of plan, since they themselves were responsible for the emergence of the situation.

In terms of traditional political thinking, the plan could be formulated as such: restructuring of the political system, slow and controlled decentralization (wherever necessary), and rapid reintegration.

The disintegration being already quite advanced and dangerously accelerated by the collapse of the USSR, the return towards reintegration had to be quick, before the disintegration could advance beyond a point where the state was no longer capable of fulfilling its functions of protecting the nation, coordinating the socio-economic policy, and guaranteeing democratic rights and liberties.

Several directions for state policy could be singled out here.

For public policy, it was: the fencing in and subsequent elimination of ethnic conflicts in addition to the quenching of regional separatist aspirations; promotion of the nation's structural development concerning its social classes; and the prevention of economic polarization of society, which would potentially threaten a social explosion.

In relations between the Centre and the local administrations, it was: development of effective principles of division of power in a way that would not hamper the state in carrying out its functions; aversion of confrontation between executive (presidential) powers and the Soviets (councils); and, possibly, early elections.

In relations with the parties and political movements, it was: creation of a strong coalition between the Centre and the democratic forces for the sake of support of the reform; development of constructive and socially safe forms of collaboration with communists and national-patriots; and establishment of collaboration with trade unions and labour movements.

In relation to the armed forces, it was preventing their disintegration and destabilization; mitigating the acuity of the social problems of the servicemen and eventually settling them in a gradual manner; and creating the legal and political conditions necessary for normal functioning of the armed forces.

The central authorities themselves should: introduce a division of power and prevent the loss of cohesion between the President, the government and the Supreme Soviet.

In foreign policy vis-a-vis new neighbours, it should be: integration within the CIS; solution of the problems pestering the armed forces and solution of the strategic weapons issue; protection of the interests of ethnic Russians; prevention of formation of anti-Russian sentiments in Islamic fundamentalism and pan-Turkism; creation of a military-political and economic alliance with Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and possibly other Central Asian new republics; establishment of an acceptable level of relations with Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics, and Transcaucasia; and prevention of the rise of negative influence from other "centres of force" with more distant neighbours.

Were there actually means to implement such a policy? Very possibly. One may note here the public's trust in Yeltsin, emotional surge and readiness to accept changes in the wake of the fall of the former regime. Foreign policy also had a huge potential for manoeuvering, due to the continuation of a single army and deep-going and old economic ties between the republics, and orientation towards Russia from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Trans-Dniestria, Ossetia, and Azerbaijan's Lezghinians. Last but not least, Russia had at its disposal almost the entire foreign policy potential of the USSR.