Russian Church Seeks to End Crisis
THE government of President Boris Yeltsin continues to enforce its siege of Russia's parliament building, following an ultimatum Wednesday giving the 100-plus deputies still inside, along with hundreds of armed supporters, until Oct. 4 to give up. More troops moved into place around the building Wednesday night, and armored personnel carriers appeared yesterday morning.
Mr. Yeltsin also moved quickly yesterday to thwart an outbreak of opposition from the country's regional governments to his decision to disband parliament.
The government's psychological warfare tactics are wearing down the people outside the building as well, spawning concerns that violence could occur despite the government's repeated pledges that they will not storm the Russian White House.
``One bullet fired outside the White House may lead to a disaster, with an echo resounding throughout the country,'' the influential patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II, warned on Wednesday. The patriarch was directing his words at the government, urging it not to take any forceful steps, even if provoked. The patriarch has offered to mediate between the president and his foes. He met with parliament officials yesterday morning and Yeltsin later in the afternoon.
Vice Premier Sergei Shakrai praised the patriarch's effort and told reporters yesterday that there are grounds for compromise between the president and the regions. He said the government was ready to lift the blockade of parliament if the armed defenders give up their weapons first.
An aide to Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, the leader of the anti-Yeltsin forces, told the official Itar-Tass news agency that they are ready to store arms with outside supervision in return for restoration of water, electricity, and heat supplies to the building. The vice president also indicated his readiness to participate in any talks mediated by the patriarch.
Meanwhile, senior government officials fanned out yesterday for talks with regional leaders in an effort to rally support for the president and head off threats by regions to separate themselves from Moscow's rule. Government officials said they would hold eight regional meetings before deciding when to hold a broader session of the Federation Council, which groups the heads of administrations and soviets (councils) in Russia's 88 regions and autonomous republics.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met yesterday with representatives of 19 central Russian regions in the Volga river city of Samara, while Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar flew for a one-day visit to the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk. Vice Premier Shakrai is expected to attend a meeting today of the Siberian Accord, an association grouping 19 republics, regions, and autonomous areas in Russia's vast Siberian and Far Eastern zones. Yeltsin also issued a decree ordering 80 percent pay increase for regional government employees, the Itar-Tass news agency reported yesterday.
The government was alarmed by the meeting held on Wednesday in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk where 140 representatives of 14 out of the 19 Siberian regions decided to openly oppose the government. Holding out the threat to form a separate Siberian republic, the regional leaders demanded that Yeltsin back off from his decree disbanding parliament and lift the blockade against it.
The Siberian leaders, mostly representing the soviets rather than the administrations, threaten that unless these demands are met by Oct. 3, they will move to set up a Siberian republic, as well as withhold taxes to the federal budget and export deliveries of coal, oil, and gas, which are mainly produced in this mineral-rich area.
Some regional officials admit that the Siberian demands are largely symbolic. ``It will be possible to implement the demands only in regions where the administrations and the regional soviets are in agreement,'' says Alexander Bazayev, spokesman for the Chelyabinsk regional soviet, a hotbed of anti-Yeltsin sentiment. ``Right now, the document is basically just a piece of paper because the administrations control all the mechanisms to implement the demands, and the heads of the administrations mostly support Yeltsin,'' he explains.
Representatives of the soviets of 54 Russian regions also met yesterday in Moscow in the building of the Constitutional Court, whose chairman, Valery Zorkin, has been pushing a compromise call for simultaneous, early elections and a return to the political situation before Yeltsin's Sept. 21 decree. The president, who plans to hold parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote in June, continues to reject that idea, saying it would lead to a vacuum of authority in the country.