Military Solution Hurts Russia's Democracy Effort
Muscovites now worry about costs of victory if president's power is unrestricted
MOSCOW — IN the end, Russian democracy could only be saved by the armor and arms of the Russian Army.
That bitter irony now hangs as heavily over the Russian political scene as the black clouds of smoke that billowed out of the White House, Russia's marble parliament building. What future can Russian democracy have, many here now wonder, if it must depend on force to survive?
``We cannot speak about victory,'' says Alexander Golts, political commentator for Red Star, the Army daily. ``We must speak about our great tragedy. Of course, the tragedy would have been a thousand times worse if those from the White House won. But after years of talking about the rule of law, again the use of force and military forces was the only instrument for solving political problems in this country.''
There is no evidence of any great sympathy in Russia for the extreme Communists and Russian nationalists who were the shock troops of the White House. (Western and Muscovite reaction, Page 2; Yeltsin's reputed deal with the Army, Page 6.)
But some worry that the atmosphere of emergency rule may extend beyond just the days ahead. ``The prospect of elections remains under question because military resistance, pockets of which might persist, is not very conducive to the democratic cause,'' Vitaly Tretiakov, editor of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote on Oct. 5.
The hint of a tougher posture on the part of the president toward all of his political opponents was also evident Oct. 5 in the decision to cancel a meeting of the Federation Council, a planned grouping of the heads of the administrations and legislatures of Russia's 88 regions. During the confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and his parliamentary foes, the regions were a key battleground with many deciding either to oppose the president's decree dissolving parliament or to remain neutral.
The decision to call off the council meeting appears to have been taken following an Oct. 4 meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and regional leaders. ``I believe they just have not understood what happened, namely that presidential authority has increased greatly,'' Nikolai Medvedev, the president's regional liaison, told the official Itar-Tass news agency on Oct. 5.
Mr. Yeltsin is reportedly pondering his next move, including possibly getting rid of the Federation Council. The government is also threatening sanctions against those regions that resisted the president, including suspending the regional councils and calling new elections. On Oct. 5, Yeltsin sacked the heads of two important Siberian regions, Novosibirsk and Amur, who led resistance to him in that part of the country.
Such tough action obscures the reality, confirmed by growing evidence, that even at the point Mr. Yeltsin imposed a state of emergency late Oct. 3, he did not have the means to enforce it. According to an extensive account published Oct. 5 by Vasily Kononenko in the pro-Yeltsin daily Izvestia, Yeltsin called Defense Minister Pavel Grachev several times early that evening - after demonstrators had overwhelmed the police and broken the cordon around the White House - seeking military intervention.
``But the minister's answers were elusive,'' he wrote. ``He tried to stick to the `Army is outside of politics' stance.'' Late Oct. 3, in a tour around Moscow, the only military presence was about two dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers standing in front of the Defense Ministry building. Even the Kremlin was undefended by Army units until early Oct. 4.
This was the situation even though heavy fighting had broken out shortly after 7 p.m. between rebels and Interior Ministry troops defending the country's television broadcasting center. Control of that facility by the putschists would have allowed them to broadcast appeals for help to military units and regional governments.
``Boris Yeltsin again called Pavel Grachev and demanded he bring in armor and troops and block the White House,'' the Izvestia account said. ```I'll send you an appropriate decree, I'll assume the entire responsibility,' the President said, according to witnesses. Grachev was forced to reply, `I understand.' ''
While Yeltsin was exerting pressure on him, General Grachev was consulting his commanders, both outside Moscow and in the Defense Ministry's collegium, its highest body. ``It was a very difficult decision for all the generals,'' says Red Star's Golts. ``Only when they received direct orders and understood the necessity of doing it, did they make their decision.''
Troops from the capital's Kantemirovsk and Taman tank divisions and the airborne divisions in Tula and Ryazan, southwest and southeast of the capital respectively, were ordered into battle. According to soldiers from the two airborne units, at least some units from Tula moved out by road at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 while the main Ryazan forces did not leave base until 5 a.m. on Oct. 4. ``They told us that those who didn't want to go, wouldn't be forced to,'' Andrei, a sergeant in the Tula division says. ``But everyone went.''
Only late that night, Yeltsin and other senior government leaders met at the Defense Ministry to work out a plan of attack for the next day.
But if Yeltsin seeks to use the Army again, he may face even more resistance. Conversations with officers and soldiers outside the White House revealed almost universal distaste for this mission. ``Let them settle their own accounts by themselves,'' said one Ryazan paratrooper. ``The Army should perform its own duties, defend the country, and not get involved in internal clashes.''