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Crisis in Russia Comes to a Head

Parliament to meet as Yeltsin and opponents ponder compromise, elections, or emergency rule

By Daniel SneiderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 5, 1993



MOSCOW

THE Russian capital is embroiled in crisis as President Boris Yeltsin and an array of parliamentary opponents tussle for political power. An emergency session of the country's supreme legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, has been called for next week.

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The squared-jawed Russian leader rushes from delivering speeches to potential allies to hushed meetings with the Russian Army's top brass.

Ever since the Yeltsin government launched its radical economic reforms early in 1992, it has faced mounting opposition from a parliament still dominated by former Communists and their Russian nationalist allies. Together with the Russian Central Bank, which answers to parliament, these forces have slowed reforms and chipped away at the president's power to rule.

Attempts at a deal have regularly fallen through, and Mr. Yeltsin's ability to survive as president has become a main topic of discussion here. A recent poll for the European Community indicates some 42 percent of the Russian people think the country is headed for a dictatorship within the next year.

"This isn't another crisis, it is the same crisis," says Sergei Stankevich, Yeltsin's counselor on political affairs, in his Kremlin office.

According to Andrei Fyodorov, adviser to Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, "It is a conflict about the model of development for the country, what kind of system will exist here." The vice president leads the centrist opposition Civic Union alliance and is a frequent critic of the free market policies of the government.

"It is more a question of power," counters Mr. Stankevich. "I see no ideology - on both sides."

The battle has worn away Yeltsin's power and popular authority. At last December's session of the Congress, the president was forced to sacrifice his prime minister, reform architect Yegor Gaidar. He gained an agreement to hold an April 11 referendum to approve the basic principles of a new constitution that would lead eventually to new parliamentary elections.

But in the ensuing months, that deal crumbled as resistance to a referendum mounted. An attempt to reach a power-sharing agreement last month failed as well, leading to plans to hold an emergency Congress session on March 10.

Neither Yeltsin nor his more centrist opponents seems eager for a popular vote or for a complete breakdown of order. Only the more extreme forces, particularly the alliance of former Communists and Russian nationalists on the right, welcome the opportunity to profit from further instability. But the inability of Yeltsin and the parliament to reach a stable deal to date augurs a drift into confrontation.

Three basic options are currently being discussed in political circles:

* Reach a new compromise, one that at least patches over the problem.

* Go to the Russian people, either through referendum or new elections.

* Suspend the current constitutional order through some form of emergency rule.