Muscovites try to improvise defense strategy SOVIET CRISIS

August 21, 1991|By Celestine Bohlen | Celestine Bohlen,New York Times News Service The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

MOSCOW -- Inside the War Room on the third floor of the Russian parliament building, commanders of the republic's forces spent the afternoon yesterday poring over maps of Moscow and a floor plan of the 12-floor building, plotting how to stave off an anticipated attack by Soviet army and Interior Ministry troops.

Their attire told the story of Russia's patchwork defense. Two men wore Soviet army uniforms, another the World War I uniform of the Don Cossacks. Others, with pistols at their hips, were in camouflage suits, issued by a security firm called the Bells.

The rest wore either suits and ties or beat-up jeans or baggy pants -- just like the hundreds of volunteers who by early evening were ringing the building in a human chain.

The men in the War Room were collecting whatever help was being offered. The phones rang with calls from citizens, one reporting an airlift of 35 light tanks at an airfield off Leningrad Prospekt, another advising of a construction battalion moving through the Solntsevo region southwest of Moscow.

Workers at a joint-venture concern called offering to bring a truckload of food, while someone in Krasnoyarsk wanted to know what was going on.

Vladimir Nezhinsky, deputy administrative officer of the Russian Defense Committee, got a tip from a source at Moscow City Hall that a curfew would be declared in the city yesterday evening and that the Soviet army troops would be pulled out.

Mr. Nezhinsky worried that if true, this would leave a vacuum for the dreaded Spetsnaz, or special forces, to move in for the kill.

President Boris N. Yeltsin of the Russian Federation was in the building most of the day, issuing orders to tighten the republic's defense.

In a speech broadcast to the crowd outside, he said his government was taking precautions "because the junta that seized power will not stop short of any steps to hold it."

"These actions are not aimed against Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan but against democratic Russia," he said. "The state of emergency has been imposed only where the leadership is democratic, mainly in those regions. This makes it clear against whom this putsch was made."

Mr. Yeltsin urged the crowd to stay calm. "Don't provoke the military," he warned.

As the day wore on, the building -- known as the White House -- prepared for the battle everyone was sure was coming. Guards on the barricades tried to stop women from entering the building.

According to a witness, members of Mr. Yeltsin's Russian government were issued pistols, while some -- but not all -- of the men guarding the entrances were given bulletproof vests, helmets, gas masks and cases of bottles filled with gasoline.

One box filled with such Molotov cocktails stood in a corner of the War Room, just in case.

"If the tanks come, we'll throw them out there," said Viktor Gurov, 36, a member of the Bell security company. "If any one of them asks for it, I will toss him the whole box."

Given the situation, the mood in the room was remarkably relaxed, even upbeat.

Outsiders would occasionally be shooed away, only to be allowed to drift back later. Over an internal sound system came the steady drone of "Radio White House," the voice of the Russian government, which has been transmitted continually on ham radio frequency.

Asked why they had come, everyone in the room answered with the same feelings.

"We have come to defend our lawful government," said Mr. Gurov. He said that about 50 employees of the private security firm had volunteered to help defend the White House, along with dozens of private detectives from the Alex Agency.

"I know one thing," Gen. Konstantin Kobets said before there were any reports of clashes.

"We will stop them at the furthest point and not let them reach here," said the officer, who was named Russian defense minister yesterday.

"We are completely certain of this. We have the people behind us. Tonight we will turn the course of events."

A Soviet army officer, who defected yesterday afternoon from the Army General Staff Building, said he came because of his concern for the future of his three children.

"I serve in military intelligence," said the 37-year-old lieutenant colonel, who declined to give his name. "I know what real democracy is, what democracy is worth."

Outside, a policeman in a heavy bulletproof vest guarded the NTC only entrance of the building still open, and others could be seen carrying food inside for the night's vigil.

Their numbers did not appear large. When two dozen Russian policemen emerged from trees near the White House and marched toward the building to join the ranks of guards, hundreds of people from the crowd outside surged toward them with cries of encouragement.

Despite the tension in many faces as rumors of converging troops persisted, the crowd remained eager to cheer any slight victory -- even the unconfirmed radio report that Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov had resigned.

And there were spots of humor as well. One sign displayed prominently near the building asked "Yanayev, Why Do Your Hands Shake?" -- a pointed reference to the visible trembling of the vice president's hands.

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