WITH Russia's supreme legislature preparing to meet, President Boris Yeltsin is frantically seeking centrist support for a political compromise to end a paralyzing constitutional crisis.
But the president may have a tough time finding supporters because his ultraright opponents are expanding their influence in the legislature at the expense of moderate opponents.
The ultraright seems uninterested in compromise and intent on creating a confrontation at the Congress of People's Deputies, which is holding an emergency session beginning tomorrow. The more chaotic the Congress, the greater the chance that the hard-liners' small but well-organized core of deputies can influence events, political observers say.
"A majority of the parliament [the Supreme Soviet] is irrationally aggressive toward the government. Centrist forces are in a minority," said moderate Deputy Oleg Rumyantsev. "The political extremes are pushing the country into a dangerous situation."
The main goal of the hard-liners, an alliance of neo-Communists and so-called nationalist-patriots, is the rollback of economic reform. To achieve this they want early, simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections to take place this fall. Such a vote, they hope, would oust Yeltsin and mandate the reversal of reforms.
Yeltsin has not rejected the idea of early elections, but says presidential and legislative votes should not occur simultaneously. Parliamentary elections must precede a presidential vote, Yeltsin has said, to ensure stability in Russia.
But if Friday's session of the Supreme Soviet, or standing parliament, is any indication, the hard-liners just may have enough power to implement their agenda. At the session, Parliament Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov - with whom the president wants to reach a power-sharing arrangement - seemed to cede control to the ultraright during debate on a political compromise plan proposed by Yeltsin.
Hard-line deputies poured scorn on the president's plan, designed to allow the government to implement economic reforms without interference from the parliament and Central Bank.
"It would be a step toward the liquidation of representative and legislative power at all levels in Russia," Deputy Ilya Konstantinov, a leader of the ultraright National Salvation Front movement, said of the compromise plan.
Earlier, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko - appearing in the Supreme Soviet to defend the president's plan - faced a barrage of angry questions from the floor. At one point he was subjected to frenzied heckling from a deputy, shouting to be heard after his microphone had been turned off. In the end, the parliament voted to reject Yeltsin's compromise.
The scene is likely to be repeated at this week's Congress, some political analysts say.
"Today [the hard-liners] control up to 50 percent of the votes in the Supreme Soviet," wrote R. Zaripov in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "It's not hard to imagine that this bloc will try to control the situation at the Congress." Yet another compromise
In an attempt to counter the growing hard-line threat, Yeltsin on Sunday unveiled a modified compromise plan during a television interview. The president said he would submit a "law on power" to the Congress that would strictly define the president's and parliament's authority, thus ending the power struggle.
According to Yeltsin aides, the law would limit the ability of the parliament to increase government spending, and prevent the Central Bank, a stronghold of critics of reform policies, to hand out huge credits to state-run industries.
"Neither the rightists, nor the leftists, nor the centrists, nor the democrats can manage alone," Yeltsin said. At the same time, Yeltsin tried to keep his options open, saying the planned April 11 referendum should go ahead.
Yeltsin also repeated a veiled threat to impose a state of emergency if "no other options are adopted" at the Congress.
Yet, despite all the president's maneuvering, his options appear limited. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has repeatedly said the Army will not get involved in politics.
Meanwhile, most political forces in Russia, not just the hard-liners, oppose a referendum. "It's an evil to reject the holding of a referendum. But it's a lesser evil than if we hold a referendum and it fails," Mr. Rumyantsev said. He warns that a failed referendum could lead to the breakup of the Russian Federation.