LEADERS of most Russian political and social groups put aside their bitter rhetoric yesterday and signed President Boris Yeltsin's domestic peace pact, aimed at allowing the government to concentrate on economic reform without the threat of renewed confrontation.
President Yeltsin scored a minor last-minute political victory in getting the signature of one influential hard-line opponent - Russian nationalist extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democrats - on his Document on Civil Accord.
But the signing of the pact, which calls for a two-year truce to avoid the use of violence for political ends, was bought at a price and is of doubtful political significance. To entice his adversaries into signing, Yeltsin was forced to make concessions on domestic and foreign policy.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, a confident Yeltsin presided over the Kremlin ceremony in St. George's Hall, where over 200 religious leaders, heads of political parties and factions, trade union chiefs, and others had assembled.
Yeltsin opened the solemn ceremony by calling for a minute of silence in memory of Russian legislator Andrei Aizderdzis, whose mafia-style murder Tuesday, labeled a ``political assassination,'' caused an uproar in parliament Wednesday and cast doubts on whether the signing ceremony would take place.
``We have different opinions and views on how Russia should look. But there is one goal ... which has managed to unite us all: the safeguarding of civil peace in Russia,'' Yeltsin said. ``There is a need to turn back the tragic pages of Russian history and put an end to civil confrontation. I believe we have sufficient will and wisdom to do this.''
The Communist Party, the influential Agrarians, and the moderate Yabloko bloc headed by economist Grigory Yavlinsky, refused to sign, although representatives attended the ceremony.
Speaking in grave tones, Yeltsin called on Russia to avoid repetitions of events of its tragic past, including the 1991 August coup that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the death of a police officer during last year's May Day celebration, which erupted in clashes between demonstrators and police, and the bloody October uprising in Moscow in which 147 people were killed. He also touched on the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their foes, the Soviet terror of forced collectivization, and mass deportations.
``The bloody chain of such events should be disrupted,'' Yeltsin said. ``This was not done by our grandfathers and fathers. We are obliged to do this ... in order to pass on to our children a peaceful Russia, in order to dispel the shadow of civil war that has been hanging over Russia these many years.''
His document, which has not yet been published, calls to maintain the status quo by creating a truce between Yeltsin and his fractious legislature. It forbids legislators to make amendments to the Constitution or call for early presidential or parliamentary elections.
But critics of the pact have called it an empty gesture. Its opponents, many of whom have never forgiven Yeltsin for calling in tanks in October to quell the uprising by legislators in the old Soviet-style parliament, say it is meaningless.
Its supporters complain it has lost much of its original content and could eventually help the opposition to consolidate itself and develop into a stronger political force.
Former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, for example, has vowed to unite all nonsignatories of the pact in an opposition bloc. The former Russian vice president only recently gained his release from jail for his part in the October events.
Indeed, the pact's actual significance may be tested on Sunday during the traditional May Day workers' celebration. Moscow city authorities have already called in more than 1,000 extra police to help with crowd control.
Yeltsin, for his part, has given in to hard-line pressure in the weeks leading up to the signing as he worked to placate his opposition. Among other concessions, Yeltsin delayed Russia's entry into NATO's Partnership for Peace program, canceled his ``blacklist'' of foes from the old parliament, and accused the US of stepping up its spying on Russia.
On Tuesday, the Russian president announced he would reconsider joint Russian-American military maneuvers scheduled for July on Russian territory. Perceived as a symbol of US-Russian partnership in the aftermath of the cold war, the exercises have been questioned by hard-line deputies who see no need to have US soldiers on Russian soil.
The possible cancellation brought a swift reaction from the United States. US Defense Secretary William Perry called Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and urged him to allow them to take place, Reuters reported from Washington.
Yuri Baturin, Yeltsin's national security adviser, warned later that a cancellation could sour relations between the two countries. ``However, Americans are sensible enough. They know how talks should be conducted, '' ITAR-Tass quoted Mr. Baturin.