IS it true, parliament deputy Oleg Rumantsyev asked an American reporter last week, that the US Congress is opposing President Clinton's decision to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin?
A few days later a call came from an acquaintance in the Urals industrial center of Chelyabinsk, an official of the regional soviet (council) there that is sympathetic to its comrades in the Russian Supreme Soviet (parliament). Has the British Parliament joined its American counterpart in opposing Mr. Yeltsin? he asked.
These rumors have been swirling around the besieged White House, the Russian parliament building, in recent days. They've spread from there out to the provinces. While these desperate tales of support from the West were being circulated, Yeltsin was bragging to the Russian people over television that more than 70 governments were backing him.
No one here would argue that Western support for Yeltsin's Sept. 21 decision to dissolve parliament and rule by decree until new elections in December has been the decisive factor in this crisis. Internal power blocs, from the Army and the KGB to the regional governments, as well as the Russian populace itself, are what ultimately will decide the victor in this struggle.
But from the first day of the crisis, Yeltsin has been able to use effectively the backing of Western governments to demonstrate to his population that his move has legitimacy in the eyes of the world. After all, the Yeltsin camp says, if the democratic governments of the West support this decision, then how can it be a step toward dictatorship, as his opponents charge.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who credited the West with trying to bloc the coup against him in August 1991, now criticizes the West for backing Yeltsin. ``They simply don't understand our situation,'' he told the Interfax news agency.
Among the hard-liners in parliament - those who are not merely clinging to their jobs but proclaim a faith either in the former Communist state or in a Great Russian nationalism - the West has simply displayed its venal interests. These ideologues feed on a xenophobia, often tinged with the growing paranoia here that events within Russia are all being orchestrated from outside.
``There is the opinion that all of this is being done according to a scenario from the West,'' an official of the soviet of Orel, a farming region south of Moscow, said over the phone last week. Russia has become an ``economic disaster'' and the West is eager to finish it off as a power, he continued.
``It is in the vital interests of the West to interfere into Russia's internal affairs, to stimulate the confrontation between the branches of power in order to ruin Russia. They will never help us,'' he said.
Indeed parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov never misses an opportunity to assail the West for supporting Yeltsin. Those governments only want a ``weak leader'' in Russia, he tells anyone who will listen.
Angry deputies, sealed off in their marble bunker, talk about revenge. One deputy rails at an American reporter, accusing him of being a ``CIA stooge.'' When the parliament wins, Vitaly Urazhtsev, a Moscow deputy warns, ``We will have the last laugh, because we won't pay back any of your credits, and we'll nationalize all your investments.''
But behind the disdain and even hatred for the West is the realization that Russia has in some invisible way finally broken out of its decades-long isolation from the rest of the world. The rumors of support from Western legislatures, even if untrue, are an acknowledgment that the West has now become a significant player in Russia's economic and political life.