As Standoff Ages, Russian Deputies Dig In Deeper
MOSCOW — THE longer Russia's power crisis drags on, the more unyielding President Boris Yeltsin's opponents become.
Surrounded and isolated in the White House, or parliament building, zealous legislators, headed by parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov and ``acting president'' Alexander Rutskoi, showed no signs yesterday of giving up their resistance to Mr. Yeltsin.
``There can be no dealing with Yeltsin. He is a usurper - an extremist lacking any principles,'' shouted deputy Vitaly Urazhtsev, a hard-line leader of the ``Army Reform'' parliament faction.
But almost a week since the bitter confrontation began with Yeltsin's move to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections in December, a compromise solution appears to be taking shape, regardless of what the irreconcilables in parliament say.
The push for such compromise is coming from the leaders of Russia's 88 regions and autonomous republics. They are throwing their weight behind a plan to hold simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections.
The joint-elections idea was initially circulated late last week and has since gained credibility as the best way to maintain stability, as well as Russia's territorial integrity. It has gained political backing from the regions and the centrist industrial lobby, which Yeltsin likely will find difficult to ignore.
Yeltsin has been a steadfast opponent of simultaneous elections, saying they would create a dangerous power vacuum. But presidential advisers now indicate that a joint-election scenario can't be ruled out. They are quick to add, however, that some sticky details remain to be worked out.
``The key is [simultaneous] elections. This depends on the regions,'' says Georgy Satarov, a member of Yeltsin's Presidential Advisory Council. Following a Sunday meeting in St. Petersburg, 49 regional leaders issued a statement supporting simultaneous elections before the end of the year. The statement also said that to ensure stability, the political situation should return to the status quo before Sept. 21, when Yeltsin signed the decree banning the parliament and its parent body, the Congress of People's Deputies.
In addition, the Federation Council, a body established by Yeltsin that comprises leaders from all regions, should convene no later than this Friday to begin work on a simultaneous election mechanism, the statement said. The council would function as Russia's de facto interim parliament in order to finalize a law on elections, which the parliament has so far failed to enact.
Yeltsin Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov told Russian television that Yeltsin would consider the St. Petersburg meeting's joint-election plan.
Mr. Satarov called the St. Petersburg declaration ``a search for a reasonable solution.'' He indicated that some aspects of the statement might receive Yeltsin's approval. But he and other Yeltsin advisers stressed that the president was unlikely ever to agree to restoring the parliament.
There is also the question of timing. It is unrealistic to expect that simultaneous elections can be organized, and proper campaigns conducted, before the new year, Satarov says.
Meanwhile the ranks of White House defectors continues to grow. Yesterday Viktor Barannikov - appointed ``security minister'' by the legislature last Wednesday - joined the deserters, saying he remained loyal to Yeltsin and had joined the parliament's cause merely to help maintain order, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Khasbulatov later denied the report.
As for the dwindling number of anti-Yeltsin zealots barricaded in the White House, any talk of compromise is considered tantamount to treason.
Yesterday morning, Ramazan Abdulatipov, who is the head of parliament's Chamber of Nationalities and who attended the St. Petersburg meeting, sought to drum up White House support for the joint-election plan. But he returned in a glum mood, saying no one was prepared to listen.
Instead of seeking compromise, deputies appear to be girding for a final battle.
``We have already adopted a decision to hold simultaneous elections in March,'' said Mr. Urazhtsev, referring to a resolution adopted by the renegade session of the Congress of People's Deputies last week. ``We're the highest legislative body in the nation. So the St. Petersburg declaration means nothing to us.''
On Sunday night, parliament Speaker Khasbulatov sent the White House into a frenzy by declaring ``a full alert,'' warning that an attempt by Interior Ministry troops to storm the building was imminent. Legislators then met in an all-night session with gas masks at their side, while the corridors bristled with weapons and guards prepared to repel the expected assault.
Satarov, the presidential adviser, says the parliament's actions show that it has ceased to be a force that can influence Russia's future development. ``It's a marginalized structure that's become absolutely irrelevant,'' he says.