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Civility Wins One in Russia

Surviving no-confidence vote, the shrewd Yeltsin reveals a new, more cooperative side

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AS President Boris Yeltsin ponders replacements for the top ministers he fired last week, Russian politicians and analysts hail his Cabinet reshuffle as a milestone on the country's path to democratic rule.

Whether the president will replace the men most involved in the Chechnya war with hawks or doves is still unclear. His appointment yesterday of sacked Interior Minister Viktor Yerin to a senior intelligence post suggests he still stands behind the men he was obliged to ditch.

But that Mr. Yeltsin bowed before parliamentary rage over the ''power ministers'' responsible for the Chechnya debacle, his decision to cooperate with parliament rather than combat it could be the most significant development in the long term.

''Our common, balanced position, our compromise, has shown the whole country that the federal center is capable of making responsible decisions,'' Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told the Duma, the lower house of parliament on Saturday.

He spoke after deputies voted down a no-confidence vote in Mr. Chernomyrdin's government, backing away from a constitutional crisis. Yeltsin paved the way for that vote by firing Interior Minister Yerin, Intelligence Chief Sergei Stepashin, and Deputy Premier Nikolai Yegorov.

A kinder, gentler democracy

July 1, the day of the vote, ''marked the birth of Russian democracy,'' prominent political commentator Andranik Migranian wrote in the weekly Maya Gazeta yesterday.

''For the first time, the different branches of power acted not as corporations fighting to annihilate one another, but as partners interested in the preservation of political stability,'' he said.

That approach differed sharply from the way Yeltsin resolved his last major difference with parliament. In October 1993, he ordered Army tanks to fire on the parliament building and kept up the barrage until parliamentary leaders surrendered.

Other observers, though, see self-interest as a more powerful motive behind the ministerial reshuffle. ''In his heart, the president still favors a forceful solution to the crisis in Chechnya,'' suggests Alexander Belyayev, a reformist member of the upper house of parliament. ''He had to change his view because of military events and public opinion in the runup to elections, but it is a tactical, not a strategic decision.''

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