RESIGNATION offers by two top Russian ministers over the bungled handling of a Chechen hostage raid two weeks ago appeared to defuse a threatened constitutional crisis yesterday.
President Boris Yeltsin did not immediately accept the resignations, tendered by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, and aides say he will make no hasty decisions.
But the move was expected to assuage anger in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, which is due to vote on a motion of no confidence in the government tomorrow.
Since passing a nonbinding, no-confidence motion last week, parliamentary leaders have said they will refrain from forcing the issue a second time if President Yeltsin fires the ministers most to blame for the hostage-taking raid in Budyonnovsk, in which more than 120 people died.
In heated back-room negotiations this week among parliamentary leaders, Yeltsin, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the government seemed to have won at least conditional support from enough Duma members to ensure that a no-confidence vote would fail.
Were it to pass, Yeltsin would be obliged by the Constitution either to dismiss Mr. Chernomyrdin's government, or to dissolve the Duma and call early elections.
He has made it plain he would choose the latter option, forcing many parliamentarians - fearful for their seats - to backtrack.
Sergei Stepashin, head of the Federal Security Service, the former KGB, also offered his resignation, as did the nationalities minister, the acting prosecutor general, and the head of the Security Council.
Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, a member of the Security Council at whose meeting the resignations were tendered, said the president would likely decide which ones to accept within the next 10 days.
The fact that the resignations are even on the table is likely to be enough to persuade the Duma that its voice has been heard, and to forestall the constitutional crisis that would ensue if parliament voted no confidence in the government a second time within two weeks.
Parliamentary elections are due next December in any case, and should the current electoral timetable hold, Duma members will be able to run their campaigns from the comfort and convenience of their parliamentary offices.
WERE parliament to be dismissed, deputies would have to vacate their offices immediately and campaign for early elections in October from their home towns, where many of them have no more logistical arrangements than a cramped apartment.
After a series of meetings with parliamentary faction leaders over the past few days, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin seem to have succeeded, using a combination of threats and promises, in convincing a majority of deputies that they have nothing to gain from forcing a showdown tomorrow.