Russian Troops Seal Off Parliament as Regions Urge a Compromise
MOSCOW — AS Russia's political crisis heads into its second week, tensions markedly rose Sept. 28 when the Russian government deployed thousands of troops to seal off the White House, Russia's parliament.
Citing the threat of violence by the armed volunteers and extremists now holed up in the White House, Moscow authorities moved at dawn on that day to barricade the building from the outside, using trucks and barbed wire and backed by at least 2,000 additional Interior Ministry troops.
``They want to turn us into something like a closed concentration camp,'' parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov told reporters later in the day.
There is a growing concern that the standoff could escalate into a violent confrontation, perhaps provoked by the forces inside the building. On Sept. 28, at 11 a.m., the Moscow authorities broadcast an ultimatum from loudspeakers outside the building demanding that the defenders turn in their weapons in 24 hours.
Economist and political leader Grigory Yavlinksy warned that ``irresponsible forces'' have taken the ascendancy within the White House, adding ``they have political interest to provoke a clash.''
The escalation of pressure by the government seems to reflect a concern among President Boris Yeltsin's supporters that a continuation of the standoff may work against the president. Despite Mr. Yeltsin's ability to isolate his parliament foes, he is faced by a movement of Russia's regional governments to seek a some form of compromise.
Regional governments are calling for Yeltsin to agree to hold simultaneous early elections for the president and the parliament. Yeltsin, who is planning a parliamentary vote in December and a presidential vote next June, has opposed such a step, saying it would lead to a power vacuum.
``Dual power is very dangerous today,'' Yeltsin said on Sept. 27. ``A power vacuum is even more dangerous, when both powers [president and parliament] are engaged in elections and have no time to work.''
Presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov, meanwhile, issued a tough warning to regional leaders. ``Some regional leaders are making attempts to channel power away from the center and to the regions,'' he said. ``Former communist chiefs who liked to talk so much about unity are ready today to tear Russia to pieces for the only purpose of holding local power in their hands.''
On Sept. 27, Yeltsin's government issued a decree subordinating all regional governments to the authority of the central government. Mr. Kostikov on Sept. 28 rejected calls to hold an early session of the Federation Council, which groups the heads of administrations and legislatures in Russia's 88 regions and republics.
Mr. Yavlinsky warned that separatism was growing among the republics, which represent Russia's national minorities. ``They are trying to use the situation to further their own interests,'' he told reporters. ``The situation isn't that different from that which existed in the Soviet Union in 1991,'' he added, referring to the events that led to the Soviet breakup.
THE government continues to issue appeals to parliamentary deputies and others inside the building to leave, offering blandishments, including new positions within the government. The heightening of military presence around the building seems aimed, for now, at increasing the psychological pressure on those inside to defect.
``A lot is being done to split us, to sow seeds of pessimism and doubt,'' parliament chairman Khasbulatov said. He compared the government's offers to those made by the invading German Nazis during World War II. ``The fascists offered meat and bread for those who took the side of fascism. Today we are facing fascism.''
The rhetoric reflects the heated atmosphere in the White House where for two nights deputies were awakened in the middle of the night and told that an attack on the building was imminent.
``We are losing time,'' warned Yavlinsky. ``Every hour is bringing them closer to the point of a clash.''