THE blackened top half of the Russian ``White House'' will be a central image in any retrospective of 1993. But its meaning in Moscow, and for Russia, can still not be said. Russian President Boris Yeltsin used brutal force to take power - always a risky proposition, but in his case necessary.
Now he is seizing the moment and using power to shape a new direction. Two regional leaders have been fired. Extremist parties have been banned. Press censorship in Moscow has begun. Sweeps through the nomenklatura have led to firings. Yeltsinites are using antidemocratic means to create order. This is seriously criticized in the West - even by those who supported the use of tanks and troops against parliament.
Antidemocratic means are troubling. Press censorship leads to public suspicion, thwarts healthy criticism, and forces radicals to speak through violent acts. The Kremlin must truly lift the censorship, as it did after the failed August 1991 coup.
Yet those in the liberal West must appreciate that the challenge to Russia's future is more dramatic than it appears. It is not clear, for example, how much more violence Yeltsin will have to use. Nor is it clear what kind of deals he cut to get Army support, and support from the increasingly powerful regional leaders. At least one Monitor report this week suggests the Russian president could count on the Army only after warning Poland and Hungary not to seek NATO membership and after telling the generals he would not reduce their budgets.
Yeltsin is the man to back. He had to act Sunday; the Russian power game has no use for tolerant liberals. But it is important to know how much he had to appease imperial ambition.
In the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed in Moscow two basic views are emerging in the West. The first is that Sunday's events were a final chapter of the August '91 coup and a start to more stability and economic order. (The word ``democratization'' in Russia has little meaning. ``Modernization'' better captures Yeltsin's ideal.) In this view, Moscow's economy is improving. IMF and World Bank loans will come with fewer conditions. December elections will bring political order. Yeltsin has shown he has what it takes and can enforce a constitution.
The second view is that the blackened White House represents the first step in a slow march toward another Russian civil war. In this view, the anger and chaos in Russia will increase as Yeltsin finds he must continue to use antidemocratic means to modernize. By eliminating opposition, he is the focus of blame. With regional leaders plotting autonomy, Yeltsin will have to use force again.
The West must encourage Yeltsin to allow opposition and lift censorship. It must closely watch Moscow.