Moscow Standoff Strains Support for Yeltsin
The long wait may work in parliament's favor, giving it credibility
TIME appears to be running out for the core of parliament deputies and their supporters sealed tightly in the Russian White House behind a cordon of troops.
But the sand is running out of Boris Yeltsin's hourglass as well. The longer the foes of the Russian president in the disbanded parliament hold out, the greater the chance he will lose control of the two key forces in this crisis - the regional governments and the security structures, including the Army and police.
``You can never be sure that these people will not at some time change their loyalty,'' says Andranik Migranyan, a member of the Presidential Council, an advisory body. Although the parliament is isolated and weakened, the 200 or so deputies remaining in the White House are a ``symbol of a kind of alternate government with an alternate president and parliament,'' he says.
``Yeltsin is very strong, but at the same time he cannot tolerate the existence of this very annoying factor in the country,'' says Mr. Migranyan. ``Nobody has any real control over the [power] structures and over the regions. You can't play this game too long.''
As long as the deputies hold out, Mr. Yeltsin has difficulty moving quickly to set up the December elections for a new parliament. Only a clear end to the White House siege ``will herald that everything is over and now it is time to turn to elections,'' the presidential adviser says.
Some observers say that Kremlin leaders underestimated the staying power of their foes. ``They miscalculated,'' says Vitaly Tretiakov, editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the leading liberal daily. ``They believed everything would be over in two or three days.''
Now the government is following a carrot-and-stick strategy. It is offering jobs and other favors to those who leave, while stepping up the display of force around the White House to pressure those who remain. The government hopes that eventually only parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, plus 30 to 40 deputies of the hard-line National Salvation Front, will remain, Migranyan says.
But the danger of this strategy is already evident. Since the government stepped up its deployment of force, sealing off the White House to all entry, violence has increased. Clashes on Tuesday night between demonstrators trying to break in and riot police claimed one policeman's life. The street battles continued yesterday with prospects of more violence as night falls.
Inside the White House are well-armed men, many of them members of extremist Communist or neo-fascist groups.
``It is a dangerous combination,'' Mr. Tretiakov says. ``There are plenty of firearms inside, and there are people who have nothing to lose.''
The use of force, even if provoked, could lead to the disaffection of the security forces and the military from the Yeltsin camp.
Under these circumstances, a significant group of presidential advisers, including Migranyan, joined leaders of some centrist parties on Tuesday to urge Yeltsin to agree to a compromise formula of holding simultaneous early elections for both parliament and the president. They specifically rejected the so-called ``zero option'' being pushed by Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin, which calls for returning to the situation that existed before Yeltsin's Sept. 21 decree dissolving parliament. Instead they propose to hold elections under the current circumstances.
YELTSIN has so far rejected any form of simultaneous elections, insisting on going ahead with his plan to hold a presidential poll only next June.
But pressure is growing from the regional governments for such an alternative. According to officials of the regional soviet (council) of Chelyabinsk, a major Western Siberian industrial region, a meeting of regional authorities of Siberia and the Russian Far East began yesterday in Novosibirsk under the chairmanship of Vitaly Mukha, the anti-Yeltsin head of that region's administration. Siberia and the Far East include the richest raw materials-producing regions of Russia, source of most of its oil, gas, coal, diamonds, and gold.
A draft resolution prepared for the meeting demands that Yeltsin's decree be repealed and simultaneous elections to be held. If this is not done by Oct. 1, the regions have threatened to allow the national parliament to convene in a Siberian city, to hold a local referendum on creating a single Siberian republic, to suspend tax payments to the federal budget, to halt deliveries of coal, oil, and gas, and to block federal elections.
So far there is no overt sign that Yeltsin's support in the Army and security forces is weakening, but the government does seem worried about this.
Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin denied that armed forces commanders ``have differences over the implementation of presidential and governmental instructions,'' the official Itar-Tass news agency reported on Tuesday.