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A period of instability


Viktor Chernomyrdin
Viktor Chernomyrdin

Matters were made much worse by the Russian government’s inability to carry out the most basic functions of any state, namely the preservation of order and the collection of taxes. The emergence of small businesses, considered necessary for a capitalist economy, was made difficult by rampant criminal activity, corrupt officials, and arbitrary and exorbitant taxes. The tax system was so erratic and inefficient that the revenues needed to sustain the armed forces and basic welfare services were not collected. Medical services collapsed and life expectancy, particularly of males, fell dramatically. Meanwhile, a number of well-placed individuals made vast fortunes by turning assets previously owned by the state into their private property. Unable to collect revenues sufficient to fund even its most basic requirements, the state was forced to borrow more and more on domestic and international markets.

Russia’s political scene was unstable and conflict-ridden in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In December 1992 the driving force behind the economic reforms known as shock therapy, Yegor Gaydar, was forced out of office by opposition in the legislature. His successor, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was the former head of the natural-gas industry of the Soviet Union; this increased his acceptance by key conservatives. Chernomyrdin pursued basically the same policies as Gaydar but made more concessions to powerful economic and political interests. Nevertheless, no lasting compromise could be achieved between Yeltsin and his supporters on the one hand, and the legislature on the other. In the absence of clear constitutional provisions to delineate powers and resolve conflicts between executive and legislature, the issue was settled by force in October 1993.

When Yeltsin dissolved the parliament in September, armed opposition leaders and conservative deputies occupied the parliament building and refused to disband. Troops loyal to Yeltsin stormed the building and arrested the opposition leaders, leaving more than 100 dead.

Yeltsin subsequently drew up a new constitution, which was accepted by the electorate in a December 1993 referendum. Under the new constitution the president’s powers were greatly enhanced at the legislature’s expense; this enabled Yeltsin to accelerate his program of economic reform and to mount his invasion of Chechnya despite parliamentary opposition. Both the December 1993 and December 1995 elections gave Yeltsin’s opponents, the communists and the Russian nationalists, the majority of seats in the legislature. In the more crucial 1996 presidential election, however, Yeltsin defeated his communist opponent, Gennady Zyuganov, a former senior Soviet bureaucrat. Yeltsin’s victory was helped by his alliance with financial interests that controlled the media.

Zyuganov’s party was stronger on nostalgia for Soviet days than on realistic answers to Russia’s current problems. In choosing Yeltsin the electorate showed its continued dislike for much of the former communist era, its disbelief that old times could be restored, and its preference for the stability and continuity that Yeltsin represented. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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