MOSCOW — RUSSIA'S leadership, inside the Kremlin and out, now has a more hard-line nationalist and strong-state lineup than a mere week ago.
Just after the newly aggressive President Boris Yeltsin ordered a rocket storm on the village where Chechen rebels held hostages, he called on Friday for the countries of the former Soviet Union to again form a military alliance against NATO and the US.
Mr. Yeltsin, the man who established economic reform in Russia, evicted the last reformers from senior posts in his administration last week and elevated men with roots in defense. Many have ties to Yeltsin's chief of personal security, Alexander Korzhakov. They have long battled liberals in Yeltsin's administration for sway over policy.
The hard-line tone in Moscow goes beyond the Kremlin to the Duma, or lower house of parliament, which is now led by Communists. "There is a dictatorship of one party," said Nikolai Stolyarov, a reformist deputy in parliament. "It's more authoritarian."
Returning deputies say the newly elected Duma is more businesslike than the last one, but also a more disciplined and dogmatic force. The Duma opened its session last week by electing a Communist and former Pravda editor as speaker. It also gave more than a third of the committee chairmanships, and almost half the major committees, to Communists.
Yeltsin's new look is plainly geared to win over Communist-leaning voters before the Russian presidential election in June.
One view here is that Yeltsin is repackaging himself for the vote, so that he can later protect and carry on the privatization and opening up of the economy after the vote. In this scenario, Yeltsin assumes that his rival will not be a democratic reformer, so he can move closer to the Communists without sacrificing reformist support.
But others are not so sure that Yeltsin is only changing on the outside. "I don't think this is all cosmetic," says a Western diplomat. "It's wishful thinking to believe that everything will change back the day after the election."
Instead, this close observer argues, Yeltsin and his staff have gradually shifted their views toward a more assertive defense of Russian national interests. They also say Russia's industries need some protectionism during its vulnerable stages.
"He stopped being a reformer in 1993," says a Russian expert, Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Now he is seeking a more populist, statist posture as a sort of "savior of the state."
Time for a counter-reformation
"In Russian history, each time after reforms, some counter-reforms follow," says Alexander Posnikov of the Institute for Legislative Studies. "I believe Yeltsin wants to govern his own counter-reforms."
Mr. Posnikov and others who know Yeltsin's aides say the aides are growing anxious that Yeltsin could lose the election in June, and they would not only be without jobs, but would also find themselves subject to criminal trials or other forms of political retribution.
The most prominent reformist lightning rods in the Yeltsin circle are now gone. Anatoly Chubais, first deputy prime minister and the architect of the largest privatization of industry in history, was ousted last Tuesday and attacked by Yeltsin on Friday for having sold off Russia's assets too cheaply. Sergei Filatov, Yeltsin's chief of staff, was more quietly demoted.
The moves marked a victory for Kremlin aides allied with Yeltsin's chief bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov, a KGB veteran. Mr. Filatov was replaced as chief of staff by a Korzhakov protege with a hard-line reputation, Nicolai Yegorov. A close Korzhakov ally and major critic of privatization chief Chubais, Oleg Soskovets, will now run the upcoming presidential elections as well as conduct his duties in overseeing industrial interests from the Kremlin.
Checks on the president
In the Duma, democratic reformers are groping for ways to deal with a communist-led chamber. The dogmatism of the Communists and their allies translates into "discipline and unanimity" in the Duma chamber, says returning reformer Andrei Makarov. "The democrats lack this dogmatism."
Some members of Yabloko, the leading reformist faction, believe that they share important common ground with the Communists in that both parties - although at opposing ends of economic arguments - seek to strengthen the parliament as a balance to the presidency.
But senior Yabloko deputy Viktor Sheinis says the motives are different. "The aim of the Communists is to weaken the presidency because they don't like our current president. Our idea is to control the executive power of the presidency, regardless of who is president."
The leader of Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky, met with Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov extensively last week to work out committee chairmanships. Yabloko members insist that they did not throw any votes for the Communist speaker into the bargaining, but even the perception that Yabloko was making common cause with Communists raised strong criticism that stung Mr. Yavlinsky.