Split Develops in Russian Government
Disputes over union treaty and tough economic choices paralyze Soviet Union's largest republic
RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin returned to the capital yesterday to find Russia's parliament and government in a state of disarray.The discord at the White House, as the Russian Parliament is known, has effectively paralyzed the republic's attempts to dig itself out of a severe economic crisis. And the problems have kept growing over the last two weeks, while Mr. Yeltsin vacationed at the southern resort of Sochi. Various disputes have developed among members of the government and Parliament. Vice President Alexander Rutskoi has come out against an economic union treaty that Yeltsin has said is vital for the future stability of Russia. Some Parliament members say Yeltsin deliberately let the conflict grow, allowing him to once again step in at the last moment and play the savior's role - much as he did during the failed August coup. But others say the legislators and their political allies are playing populist politics, trying to pass on to the president responsibility for the tough decision needed to cure the republic's economic woes. Regardless of the reasons, a cloud of political doom has settled over a capital that just under two months ago was the scene of wild euphoria following the defeat of the hard-line communists. "Nothing is being done to solve the crisis and winter is quickly coming on," said parliamentary deputy Yevgeny Sergeev. "There could be catastrophe. We may find that empty shelves are a bigger threat than cannons and tanks." Though nearly everyone denies it, Russia's top leadership appears to have split apart during Yeltsin's Black Sea vacation. Of late, parliamentary debates on legislation have taken a back seat to heated rounds of name-calling. The proposed economic union treaty has become the focal point of the political power struggle. Russia and the 11 other republics all pledged to form an economic commonwealth during a meeting Oct. 1 in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Byelorussia have already signed the Alma-Ata treaty. But Russia, the acknowledged key to the treaty's success, is now balking. "It's necessary to have the economic agreement if we are to find a way out of the crisis," says legislator Sergei Mikhailov. "But a majority of deputies are putting personal interests above common interests." To start, the Council of Ministers, the Russian Cabinet, last week refused to recognize the signature of Economics Minister Yevgeny Saburov on the Alma-Ata document. During Wednesday's Parliament session, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov said Mr. Saburov was not authorized by the government to conduct negotiations with other republics during the Alma-Ata meeting. He also called the pact "a new attempt to restore a dominant center." Saburov countered that he had spoken with Yeltsin, and the president "bas ically approved of what had been done in Kazakhstan." Mr. Rutskoi fired perhaps the most devastating salvo in the treaty debate Tuesday, when he bitterly denounced the pact as a "graphic example of banditry," the Interfax news agency reported. Rutskoi's position that Russia's abundant resources would unfairly benefit other republics has won the support of many deputies. Rutskoi, who said in a television interview he wanted the job as prime minister of the republic, added that a political union treaty should be signed before the republics unite economically. Meanwhile, Yeltsin aide Gennady Burbulis has suggested that Russia, by far the richest and most powerful republic, declare itself the legal successor to the Soviet state. In response, Saburov and another deputy prime minister, Igor Gavrilov, both announced their intention to resign Tuesday, saying all the political bickering and backtracking was leading to Russia's and the Soviet Union's ruin. Grigory Yavlinsky, the chief architect of the economic union treaty, made a plea for the plan's approval Wednesday. "It contains tough measures, but without such measures it will be impossible to get out of the crisis," Mr. Yavlinsky said of the treaty. "If we continue to give politics priority over the economy, we will be buried under the debris of the disintegrating state by next spring." Most deputies acknowledged further delays on the treaty could prove disastrous, but as legislator Iona Andronov explained; "The Parliament is incapable of making a decision without Yeltsin." Deputies are reluctant to act alone because they feel in a no-win position, Mr. Sergeev said. They are reluctant to adopt harsh measures sure to incur the people's wrath, but at the same time they know if they do nothing they will be swept away by a groundswell of popular discontent, he said. Legislators looked to Yeltsin to lead the transformation of the economy, using his broad popular support to blunt public anger. But Yeltsin was mysteriously silent during his Sochi sabbatical, not even issuing an official comment on the Alma-Ata accord. Mr. Andronov suggested that Yeltsin waited until the crisis reached a boiling point before intervening. "He likes a serious crisis. It's his element," Andronov said. "But I'm afraid this time he may have miscalculated and will not be able to salvage the situation." Unlike his response to the August coup attempt and earlier successes in his political rise to the top, the solid block of parliamentary support that has always backed Yeltsin has eroded somewhat. Many legislators feel the president easily could have prevented the current chaos in the government, said Sergeev. "He sat back after the coup and declared a political 'time-out' precisely at the time when he should have taken decisive steps to facilitate the transformation of our economy," Sergeev said. "I've always supported him in the past, I can't justify his lack of action," he continued. Now a growing number of legislators are agreeing with former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who is predicting social unrest and a possible second right-wing coup attempt. "I'm very afraid the people will take to the streets in anger," says Mr. Shevardnadze, who accurately predicted the August coup attempt. "Who will be our leader? I'm afraid it will be the right."