Ruslan Khasbulatov, Boris Yeltsin’s antagonist, died when, in 1993, the then Russian President assumed the role of an authoritarian leader and opened the first crack in the dream of a fully democratic Russia. On October 4 of that year, Yeltsin orders tanks to bomb the “White House”, the Parliament where Khasbulatov, President of the Supreme Soviet, and Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi were refugees, at the end of a long institutional and political crisis .
Khabulatov died at the age of 80 at his residence in the Moscow region, Russian state television announced yesterday, citing a statement from his family members. Born in Chechnya, in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt, north of Grozny, raised in Kazakhstan – like many Chechens and Ingush who were deported there by Stalin in 1944, accused of collaborating with the Nazi forces – he had been one of the closest allies of Yeltsin in the last months of the life of the USSR, in criticizing President Mikhail Gorbachev and the slowness with which the opening up of the country and the reforms proceeded.
Both Yeltsin and Khasbulatov were elected to the new Congress of People’s Deputies in March 1990, the first partially free elections in the history of the Soviet Union. And they had opposed the coup of August 1991 together. Admitted to Moscow State University in 1962, after graduating in law and obtaining a doctorate in 1980, he had become an economist at Plekhanov University, focusing his attention on political developments , social and economic conditions of capitalist countries.
After assuming the office of President of Russia, for a few more months, the Soviet Socialist Republic, Yeltsin, in October 1991, appointed Khasbulatov Chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, a position then with powers comparable to those of the President. Their alliance begins to wear out already after the introduction of economic reforms and privatizations, and deteriorates when Khasbulatov and Rutskoi, against the policies of the liberal ‘gang’, initiate the ‘impeachment’ of the President, after Yeltsin’s decree of September 1993 for the dissolution of Parliament and the convening of new elections. Groups of supporters of Khasbulatov and Rutskoi besieged, on their appeal, the Ostankino television tower in Moscow and the mayor’s office in the capital. Yeltsin then declares a state of emergency and orders the military to intervene.
At the end of the dramatic siege of the White House, of the special forces breaking into the building, where electricity, water and telephones had been disconnected for days, Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were arrested and detained. Later, in 1994, an amnesty was approved for them. But the events of those days, forgotten after a short time by a world too eager to transform the hope of a westernized Russia into reality, and perhaps, as many Russian exponents claimed in the following years, a fragile and therefore controllable country, are firedamp from a problem that would explode many years later. Following the crisis of those days, Yeltsin introduces an initial reform of the Constitution and a presidential system, the first step still democratic in the long series of reforms that Vladimir Putin would later imprint, step by step, until he erased all traces of democracy in the Russian Federation .
Khasbulatov would not have failed to denounce, unheard, that the events of 1993 had triggered the destruction of democracy in Russia, and paved the way for authoritarian presidentialism. He had also tried to use his role in Chechnya to avert the first war, the one launched by Yeltsin in 1994 “to restore constitutional order” and, later, a professor of international economic relations at Moscow’s Plekhatov Academy and a corresponding member of the ‘Russian Academy of Sciences, to broker a peace.
He was not a supporter of the pro-independence Dzhokhar Dudaev, who in November 1990 was elected President of the Congress of All Nations of the Chechen People and on June 8 of the following year, before the dissolution of the USSR, declared the independence of the Republic Chechen. In fact, a few months later he went to Grozny, on Yeltsin’s mandate, to convince the leader of the Chechen Ingush regional commission of the Communist Party, Doku Zavgaev, to resign. But his efforts were nullified by Dudaev who was elected President of Chechnya with 90 percent of the vote. The first act of President Dudayev is to sign a decree for the independence of Chechnya. Thus begins the long tug of war with Moscow.
Yeltsin begins to strengthen the Russian military presence. He will initiate the intervention in the last months of 1994. The war ends in August 1996, with the de facto defeat of Russia, the capture of Grozny by the forces of the Chechen resistance and a peace agreement. Khasbulatov later argued, in the book “How they prevented me from stopping the war in Chechnya”, that in the autumn of 1994 it would have been possible to remove Dudayev from power without firing a shot, but that Moscow had intervened militarily to prevent him from succeeding him.
After the defeat of the White House, Khasbulatov had sought a new political role, a new image of peacemaker and super partes dove, in a mediation effort in the Caucasus crisis approved not only by the Chechen leadership, but also by Abkhazia, Ingushetia, Ossetia of the North and South Ossetia, the other fragments of instability in the mountains of southern Russia, suspended – he explained in 1995 in an interview with Adnkronos – in a ”delicate balance that was completely destroyed” by the war.
”If the current international policy on the Caucasus continues in these terms, the war will become a constant element”, he anticipated, denouncing how the West had accepted the Russian invasion in Chechnya, it would remain “hostage to its policy”, consistent with the silence with which the chancelleries reacted to the bombing of the White House.Two events, the crisis of October 1993 and the invasion of Chechnya, which Khasbulatov saw as closely related, ”like the two sides of the same coin” .
Khasbulatov had, in vain, appealed to Western countries, asking them to exert pressure on the Kremlin to prevent the resumption of a second phase of the war which would then promptly take place, ordered by Putin still Premier as an anti-terrorism operation, a few months before his arrival in the Kremlin. Instead, peace negotiations were for him the only possible solution to the crisis in which “no one is right anymore because ‘once you participate in the conflict militarily you lose all your innocence and the right to remain on the right side”. A crisis degenerated precisely because of the first military action by Moscow which, with a toll of 50,000 dead and wounded, 200,000 refugees, a number of victims among Moscow’s soldiers that Khasbulatov compares to that of the war in Afghanistan, can no longer afford to leave room for any ultimatum.
Russia is losing all its historical allies, he claimed in 1995, before disappearing from public life and avoiding any comment on developments in the country, without however having established new ones and there is a strong tendency towards isolation: at first Moscow had followed the West, then there had been a drastic change which led to an imperialist ideology, which in turn would have repercussions with the loss of influence in major international fora. In the Kremlin, “which I asked for democracy, he instead laid the foundations for a regime of the tsarist type”, he observed.