RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin's promised fall offensive against his political foes finally started rolling last week, marked by the return to government of reform architect Yegor Gaidar.
But no sooner had the initial assault been completed than Mr. Yeltsin again found himself bogged down in Russia's political morass.
Mr. Gaidar's appointment, formally decreed on Saturday, breaks the deadlock within the government, which has been split between reformers and a gradualist wing favoring the interests of state-run industry. But that move has not resolved the broader division between Yeltsin and the anti-reform coalition of ex-Communists and Russian nationalists who control the Supreme Soviet or parliament.
On Saturday, the Russian leader failed to gain agreement from leaders of Russia's regions and republics to form a new Federation Council. The president is hoping to use the new council as a counterweight to the defiant parliament, even suggesting it could be transformed into the upper house of a new, two-chamber legislature.
Yeltsin's goal remains to hold early parliamentary elections this fall, using Federation Council support to overcome parliamentary opposition. On Saturday, Yeltsin offered to face early elections himself, but only six months after a parliamentary election. (The parliament's current term expires in 1995, followed a year later by the president's.)
According to presidential aides, the majority of the more than 150 leaders of the soviets (councils) and executive administrations of Russia's 88 regions, autonomous republics, and territories are ready to back Yeltsin. But a significant minority are balking.
Parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov tried to stiffen resistance by calling his own session on Saturday with the regional soviets. Joined by Yeltsin foe Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, the parliament chairman warned against an attempt to dissolve the legislatures and assailed the government's economic reform policies. Mr. Khasbulatov and Mr. Rutskoi called for restoration of the Soviet Union, with the vice president accusing Yeltsin of acting on behalf of the United States.
Yeltsin is caught in a dilemma whose features have not changed for almost two years: He cannot remove the anti-reform parliament if the current constitutional order is respected.
Yeltsin attempted to make an end run by holding last April's popular referendum on his rule but he failed to capitalize on his victory in that vote. An attempt to push through a new constitution has stalled as the republics and regions try to use Yeltsin's dependence on them to gain greater economic and political autonomy.
Now the Yeltsin camp is pushing for passage of a ``minor constitution,'' combining the portions of the draft charter that reconstitute the parliament and presidency with a new law on elections. Yeltsin aides are making overtures to moderate factions in the parliament to approve this soon at a joint meeting of Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly and the parliament's Constitutional Commission, followed by enactment at an October meeting of the Congress of People's Deputies. Yeltsin aides have even suggested that the current Congress could be transformed into the new parliament, holding their seats until the end of their terms.
Yet such maneuvering does not conceal the unlikelihood of reaching a deal with his foes. Yeltsin aides warn darkly of ``decisive measures'' being prepared in that eventuality. A tentative election date, Nov. 28, is being floated.
Many believe a fall election is now impossible, even from a technical point of view, but even those do not discount Yeltsin's determination to have one. ``It is hardly possible to imagine, but again, who knows?'' says Sergei Blagovolin, a political analyst and member of the executive committee of Choice for Russia, a new party formed by Gaidar.
Under these circumstances, ``a strong government is much better than a weak and disintegrating government,'' Mr. Blagovolin argues. Gaidar, the young economist who designed and implemented the Russian ``shock therapy'' policy in 1992 until his ouster in December, insisted on the removal of Vice Premier and Economics Minister Oleg Lobov as a condition for his return. Mr. Lobov was spearheading an effort to halt Gaidar's rapid privatization program and to provide a new flood of cheap credits to state-run factories.
``Now the major task is to prevent hyperinflation,'' Gaidar said on Saturday, vowing to curb subsidies to industry and control the yawning budget deficit. He claims the backing of not only reformers such as Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov but also Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has been more associated in the past with the gradualist wing. Gaidar told the daily Izvestia that Mr. Chernomyrdin ``had radically changed his views and become a completely different man.''