Much attention is being paid at the moment by the Western media to the acute struggle for power currently under way in Russia. Indeed, a fierce battle for political domination is taking place.
It is happening during a time of strong popular disappointment in the pace of reforms and in the apathy of the people, who feel completely alienated from the politicians and political intrigues in the Kremlin.What makes the situation even worse is this condition is accompanied by a constant deterioration of living standards as inflation skyrockets, having reached even beyond what can be technically defined as hyperinflation.
The political struggle in modern Russia is often reduced to the rivalry between President Boris Yeltsin and Ruslan Khasbulatov, the speaker of the parliament. Many experts view this rivalry as one of commitment to radical reform on the one hand and a conservative resistance to reform on the other.
That is both true and not true. Political life in Russia cannot now be reduced to a simple power struggle between Yeltsin and Khasbulatov, the reformer and the conservative.
It is much more complex and diverse; many other players and forces are acting with impact and influence on the Russian political scene.
Besides, and perhaps for the first time in the history of Russia, much depends on the situation in the provinces, especially on the position of local political and economic elites.
Who is the most likely to win in this struggle for power? Yeltsin's popularity among the people has continued to decline steadily since the beginning of a radical transition to the market-oriented economy.
Still, there is no other politician in modern Russia so far who is equal to Yeltsin in terms of influence and authority. His political clout, popularity and personal charisma, though in gradual decline, are incomparably greater than those of Khasbulatov.
And being overconfident of that fact, Yeltsin has made probably one of his most serious mistakes, having underestimated the potential of the conservative legislature to put brakes on the pace of his reforms and overestimated the resiliency of his own popularity.
Despite the absence of any organized social or political constituency supporting Khasbulatov, his base of political power still seems to be rather firm. So what are the sources of his and his adherents' ability to challenge Yeltsin and the reformers?
First of all, this political system itself, in which the Congress of People's Deputies - a monstrous super-parliament tending to subjugate not just the legislative, but also the executive branch as well as usurping its oversight functions - plays the key role. The nature of the existing political system has thus become the major obstacle to real reforms.
Nevertheless, a radical dismantling of this system is undesirable because of the more compelling necessity to preserve political stability, civic accord and the legitimacy of the reforms.
Second, the speaker of the parliament is seeking the support of the powerful bureaucratic apparatus at both the central and local levels. That could undoubtedly become a factor of crucial importance in a still over-bureaucratized country.
Under these circumstances, the role and impact of sophisticated plotting behind the scenes increases significantly.
Third, the conservative majority of the parliament is capable of attracting the support of the radical nationalistic opposition, especially through the parliamentary faction called "Russian Unity."
Fourth, the conservative grouping in the parliament is being strengthened by the inability of centrist pragmatic forces such as the "Civic Union" coalition to wield effective power by themselves.
The position of the centrists is somewhat unstable at this point, as they basically represent the internal powers of the past - the state-run industry and military industrial complex.
To be at the head of the process of change, as well as to influence the decisionmaking process to the extent they would like to be able to do, they are in severe need of political allies. Therefore, a coalition of pragmatic "industrialists" and liberal reformers could be the most desirable option for the democratic future of Russia.
Unfortunately, this seems rather unlikely to occur. On the contrary, a potentially dangerous center-right coalition may be the more probable one.
Fifth, and most important of all, is a dramatic shrinking of political influence and popularity of the reform-minded democratic wing of Russian society, which has continued to yield initiative since its most noteworthy triumph in August 1991 - the days of the failed coup and shortly after.
At the moment, the ones who are losing are the people of Russia. They need calm, time and outside support in order to practice the democratic process and focus on their urgent economic problems.