Resistance Builds to Hard-Line Soviet Regime
Some citizens, local councils, and military units rally to Yeltsin's calls for opposition
CRAMMED atop a tank turret positioned outside the Russian Federation parliament building, a group of students were singing at the top of their lungs early in the morning of Aug. 20, despite a steady rain."Together, united, the people can never be defeated," went the refrain of the students' song as one of them strummed a battered guitar while another waved the red, white, and blue Russian flag. The students' determination appears to be contagious. Although citizens are far from united in opposing the coup in the Soviet Union staged by hard-liners Aug. 19, the resistance, centered around Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, seems to be building strength. "The most difficult problem for us is that we have no way to communicate. All forms of mass media that supported Yeltsin have been closed," said Roman Kamenchuk, a metallurgist from the Arctic area of Norilsk. "Slowly but surely, however, we are gaining strength." In an attempt to contain the situation, the so-called State of Emergency Committee, which ousted President Mikhail Gorbachev, was preparing a decree to remove Mr. Yeltsin as president of Russia, the Russian Information Agency reported. At a news conference Aug. 19, acting president Gennady Yanayev accused Yeltsin of inciting conflict. "An appeal for a general strike is an irresponsible action," Mr. Yanayev said. "I do not think we can afford this when the country is undergoing chaos." Despite the committee's condemnation, Yeltsin is maintaining his strong power base. Many local government bodies throughout the republic have pledged allegiance to the Russian president. A significant number of workers, particularly in the Kuzbas coal mining region, are obeying Yeltsin's Aug. 19 order for a general strike, and there is evidence that rifts are developing in the military. Meanwhile, in other republics reaction is mixed to the committee's power seizure. Russian Federation officials felt bold enough to issue a series of demands Aug. 20, that included the dissolution of the Emergency Committee and the reopening of all mass media outlets shut down by the hard-liners. The list of demands was taken by Russian Parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov and Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi to the Kremlin and delivered to Soviet parliament speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, whom Russian officials recognize as the "only legitimate constitutional power in the country." Mr. Rutskoi later said the demands were passed on to the Emergency Committee. Later Aug. 20, about 70,000 supporters surrounded the Russian parliament for a rally, frequently chanting "we will be victorious," and thrusting their hands in the air with the for victory sign. "We know our cause is just, and we will be successful," Ilya Zaslavsky, a leading member of the Democratic Russia movement, told the crowd from the balcony of the parliament building, known as the White House. Overnight at the parliament building, several thousand people, strengthened barricades despite the rain. Groups of about 30 men moved in unison to the call of foremen, carrying steel girders to the barriers. At one point, Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silayev made an appearance, giving a brief pep talk to the cheering crowd, as well as stopping to talk to troops who have gone over to the republican side. Several of the rosy-cheeked conscripts sitting on their armored personnel carriers could be seen cheering Mr. Silayev, their fists punching the air. "He said he was with us and we told him we were with him," said one soldier, who was sitting in a truck with a picture of Yeltsin in the window. The troops of the elite Tamanskaya division had declared their allegiance to the Russian government Aug. 19, providing a huge morale boost to Yeltsin followers. Talks with troops both at Manezh Square, opposite the Kremlin, and the Russian parliament indicated a division of opinion within the military over the coup. "I decided the right thing to do was support the Russian government, and I know there are many others who feel like I do," said a tank captain, who declined to give his name. Several leading generals, including the Soviet air force commander Yevgeni Shaposhnikov, have been arrested, according to the Russian Information Agency, citing unconfirmed reports. Such arrests could signal a major rift in the military. With hard-liners essentially dependent on the military to impose their will through a state of emergency, a split could mean the beginning of the end for the coup. Some local governments are refusing to follow the orders of the Emergency Committee. In the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok, an important naval base, the city soviet (council) was drafting a resolution calling on the members of the committee "to surrender to the legally elected bodies." Interior Ministry units in the Western Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk were rallying in support of Yeltsin. To pressure the Emergency Committee, many industrial enterprises are obeying Yeltsin's call for a general strike. Coal miners in the Kuzbas region of Siberia, which has become a bastion of support for Yeltsin, have shut at least half the mines in the area, a spokesman said. The mood in other Soviet republics was mixed. Officials in at least one republic, Azerbaijan, have applauded Gorbachev's ouster. Most other republics have initially urged restraint. In the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, officials are advocating a policy of passive resistance. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis has said the republic would conduct a general strike only if the military moved against the parliament. In the Ukraine, the second most powerful republic with a population of 50 million, "spontaneous demonstrations against the coup in Moscow took place in all major cities," the Rukh Information Agency reported Aug. 20. Soviet troops were reported moving towards Kiev, the Ukranian capital, Aug. 20, a step that could signal a state of emergency being declared in the region.