Moscow's Tense Showdown Turns Into Waiting Game
As world leaders show support for Yeltsin, his foes in parliament plan ways to seize back power. Both sides are courting Russia's regions and military.
PINNED down in parliament by President Boris Yeltsin's move to end Russia's power struggle, legislators waited calmly and confidently yesterday for reinforcements from the regions.
On the ground floor, a bunker-like mood settled in at the parliament building, or White House. Police, some wearing flak vests, were armed with automatic weapons as they guarded entrances to the building.
On the upper floors, an unexpected calm pervaded the deserted halls. Deputies huddled behind closed doors to formulate a strategy after Mr. Yeltsin's move to disband the parliament and hold elections Dec. 11-12. Under attack and clearly exhausted from working nonstop, many deputies exuded confidence that the legislature will win this final confrontation with the president.
``There will be no parliamentary elections in December,'' says Ilya Konstantinov, a leader of the hard-line faction that has been effectively setting the parliamentary agenda over the past few months.
The showdown began Tuesday night when Yeltsin made an unexpected television address to outline his legislative reform plans.
Yeltsin's power-play set off a flurry of activity in the White House, which ironically was the scene of Yeltsin's stand against the hard-line coup attempt of August 1991. Meeting in emergency session yesterday morning, the deputies adopted resolutions ousting Yeltsin and replacing him with Vice President Alexander Rutskoi. That action was backed up by Russia's supreme judicial body, the Constitutional Court, which ruled that Yeltsin's action violated Russia's Basic Law.
The power struggle then shifted to behind-the-scenes maneuvering yesterday afternoon, as neither president nor parliament showed any signs of caving in.
The objective for both sides was to enlist the support of not only the regions, but also the Army, and Security and Interior ministries. The president will not be able to carry out his election plan without regional and military support, Yeltsin opponents say.
``The situation is not as bad as it would appear for the Supreme Soviet [parliament] and for soviets [regional councils] at all levels,'' says Mr. Konstantinov.
A majority of Russia's regions will not support Yeltsin, Konstantinov adds. The strongest support for the parliament, he says, is in agricultural Central Russian regions such as Kursk, Orel, and Voronezh. Novosibirsk, an industrially important area, was also backing the legislature. Yet the positions of most autonomous republics, or nominal ethnic homelands, is unclear.
As for the military, Konstantinov says the Army and Security Ministry are neutral. The Interior Ministry is taking orders from Yeltsin, he adds, but its loyalty is wavering.
Konstantinov's claims contrast sharply with those from Yeltsin. The president announced that the majority of Russian regions support his actions, adding that he enjoys the firm backing of the military and security forces. He dismissed parliament's actions to remove him as inconsequential.
Parliament ``does not exist, therefore there is not, cannot, and must not be any dialogue,'' Yeltsin said. ``We want everything to go peacefully, without bloodshed.''
Mixed signals are coming from the regions themselves, in part because of widespread confusion. While some regions are taking action, most seem bitterly divided, just as in the capital. Maintaining order has become the top priority, officials in various regions say.
``We can't understand the current status of the federal authorities,'' says Boris Nemtsov, governor of the reformist Nizhny Novgorod region.
Viktor Lysov, an aide to the Nizhny governor, says Mr. Nemtsov is willing to ``sacrifice his personal loyalty to Yeltsin in order to strengthen his position in the region'' and continue with economic reforms.
At least one autonomous republic - Udmurtia - was following Nizhny's example, placing local authority above that in the crisis-bound capital. And the leadership in a few other autonomous republics announced they were backing parliament, according to reports read in parliament.
``Regions will try now to distance themselves from the center,'' said Vitaly Tretiakov, editor of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. ``They'll keep this distance and just wait to see how the situation evolves in the center.''
To keep the regions in line, Yeltsin spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov announced that presidential representatives would be dispatched to the provinces ``to explain the situation,'' Tass said.
Back in Moscow, the Cabinet reportedly expressed unambiguous support for Yeltsin.