- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

Western observers and analysts have been surprised by the sudden change of power in Moscow. This demonstrates how little they know about Moscow, communism and post-communist politics.

Boris Yeltsin is a graduate of the Communist Party, the best training quarters for power-oriented politicians. His squabbles with Mikhail Gorbachev before the collapse of the Soviet Union and his rise to power after the attempted anti-Gorbachev coup in 1991 clearly demonstrate a well-seasoned apparatchik.

This former leader of the Soviet Union and Russia, unlike his predecessors, loves drama and the dramatic. His comeback after Mr. Gorbachev ousted him, the famous moment in 1991 he stood atop a tank to defend democracy and bring an end to the reign of communism, was among his performances. In 1999, Mr. Yeltsin topped all. His resignation, the emergence of the Unity Party, and the rise of Vladimir Putin is a drama in three acts.

Act One was the parliamentary election where Mr. Yeltsin's Kremlin Party gained a quarter of the seats in the Duma. In fact, this election may be the beginning of the end of what was left of the Communist Party.

Act Two was to conduct a war in Chechnya managed by his chosen successor, Mr. Putin.

Act Three was the resignation three months ahead of the presidential election. This brilliant political maneuver was to make sure that the smitten opposition of Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov would be nipped in the bud. This way they are in no position to regain popular vote and properly present themselves in the presidential elections, which now will be a foregone conclusion and a Putin (Yeltsin) victory.

Another dramatic act, noted by only a few analysts, is that Washington's darling in Moscow, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, did not gain even one delegate in the new Duma.

In a three-act drama, Mr. Yeltsin succeeded in punishing his opponents, weakening the communists, and elevating to power his chosen successor. A remarkable achievement for a person that the Western and Russian press consider half-dead. Thus, Mr. Yeltsin has acquired historical legitimacy and will not be remembered as just another weak leader in charge of an anarchic, kleptocratic, corrupt system.

This was indeed a supreme historical act. The March 2000 presidential election will represent an end to Moscow's transitional government from communism to something short of democratic liberalism. The American involvement in support of Mr. Yeltsin and the reformers has also come to an end.

What would be required of Mr. Putin to be a successful post-transitional Russian president? First, of course, he must bring an end to the war in Chechnya. That means claiming a victory, even if it is not the case. The Chechen guerrillas and Muslim militants will continue to harass the Russians. What is significant in the Chechen war is not a decisive victory over the Chechnyans, but a political warning to all secessionist groups in the Caucasus that their fate will be like that of the Chechens. Mr. Putin will inherit this political victory.

President Putin, to successfully stabilize, modernize and reform Russia, must do the following: No reform can succeed without a strong central government. This does not mean returning to communist totalitarianism. What is necessary is the creation of respectability and infusion of value into the office of president, which Mr. Yeltsin has failed to accomplish.

Structural institutional political reform, without which there can be no economic reform, is of paramount importance. By political reform I mean the creation of an independent judiciary and a system that respects the rule of law.

Next, unlike Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Putin must make the Unity Party his party in the Duma. Mr. Yeltsin's major failure was that he did not have a party of his own, and was thus dependent on the Kremlin camarilla. Without cohesive, established and long-lived political parties, the legislative body will be of no value, as it is now. Without a party of his own, President Putin will not be able to manage political reform and institutional change. I am not speaking of the Russian constitution. I am speaking of acceptable, well-established political institutions and structures without which Western political democratic systems cannot be sustained.

The question is not democracy in Russia. It is the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the political parties and elections that fulfill the requirements that protect the political system. Before President Putin can start the process of institutionalization and political reform, he must bring an end to the media and business mogul regime that now dominates Russia in the absence of political parties and institutions. The Kremlin cabal can no longer be the instrument and the source of exploitation of the Russian State and people.

Nor can it be the source of policy-making. Policy-making is the exclusive domain of the president and the Duma. There would be no beginning if there is no end to the wild system that grew out of the transition from Mr. Gorbachev to Mr. Yeltsin. To succeed, President Putin must bring an end to the Wild West system that has dominated the Yeltsin presidency and help create the necessary institutional and political framework to usher Russia into the civilized world.

Thus, Russia would become an important partner of Europe and an ally of the United States, and should be supported by the international community, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and all other financial institutions that can provide Russia with the necessary economic lift to become a full partner in the international community.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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