Yeltsin pulls rank on Gorbachev. Russian leader routs the party, reshapes Cabinet THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 24, 1991|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Mikhail S. Gorbachev's savior became his tormentor yesterday.

Wasting no time in wielding the power that is now his, Boris N. Yeltsin routed the Communist Party from its position of influence yesterday and placed three of his own men in key positions in Mr. Gorbachev's Cabinet.

The Russian president -- the hero of the anti-coup movement that swept to victory this week -- left no doubt that he now holds the upper hand here.

He issued decrees throughout the day, each one lopping off more of the authority of the central government and of Soviet President Gorbachev -- who complained about some, joined in others, but ultimately acquiesced to all.

The Russian president suspended Communist Party operations throughout the land he was elected to govern. He ordered party activity halted immediately in the armed forces and the KGB. He banned Pravda and five other party newspapers. He fired the head of Soviet television and said he was taking over the Tass news service.

Then Mr. Yeltsin shut down the headquarters building of the party's ruling body, the Central Committee, so incriminating documents could not be removed before investigators get to them.

He placed liberal allies in the most sensitive positions of Mr. Gorbachev's government -- hand-picking a new KGB chief, defense minister and interior minister.

Mr. Yeltsin, who was elected on a virtual anti-Communist platform last spring to head the Soviet Union's largest republic, seemed to relish yesterday's exercise, as did the sometimes vengeful crowds who gathered in front of the KGB and party headquarters buildings yesterday.

Only two days before, Mr. Gorbachev had been restored to the Soviet presidency thanks to the resistance that Mr. Yeltsin had led against the hard-line junta that tried to topple him. Mr. Gorbachev allowed himself to be bullied by Mr. Yeltsin during an extraordinary two hours before the Russian parliament.

Mr. Yeltsin waved some papers in Mr. Gorbachev's face and told him to read aloud the minutes of a Cabinet meeting that took place during the coup, implicating many of its most prominent members in the plot.

"I haven't read it yet," Mr. Gorbachev objected, on live national television.

"Well, read it now," Mr. Yeltsin commanded.

Other members of the Russian parliament heckled and criticized Mr. Gorbachev, who at one point said, "Calm down, calm down. I'm telling you what I think. Do I have that right or not?"

Things went badly for Mr. Gorbachev from the start. When he walked to the podium and headed for a prominently positioned chair, Mr. Yeltsin guided him to a lesser place.

Mr. Gorbachev did announce himself that Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, the foreign minister, had been fired for not taking a stand against the coup, and he added, without elaborating, "This whole government has got to resign."

But the Soviet president objected to a proposal from one of the Russian deputies that the Communist Party be declared a criminal enterprise.

"Socialism, as I understand it, is a type of conviction that people have," Mr. Gorbachev said. "I will never say you have to drive out all your workers and peasants who happen to be Communists. No, no, no, I can't go along with that. To declare millions of people, workers and peasants, criminals -- that I will never go along with."

In discussing what the failure of the coup means, Mr. Gorbachev said, "Everything has got to change -- the authority, the federation, the economy, our attitude, our relationship with property, and the position of the individual. We are already a different society, where there is no place for those reactionary forces. And that is why this was the last adventurous

attempt to try to exact revenge and stop this process and seize power."

But to make sure there will be no more such adventures, Mr. Yeltsin put heavy pressure on the Communist Party, which he accused of being on the side of the junta earlier this week. Although from the moment the junta collapsed the Communists began criticizing it, Mr. Yeltsin wants investigators to search party files for evidence of collusion.

To be sure that the headquarters building remained sealed yesterday, citizen volunteers linked arms around the entrances, while hundred of others gathered on the sidewalk to offer encouragement.

One volunteer said that only one driver had tried to leave the building with documents in his car but that a number had been stopped trying to smuggle out various delicacies that are generally unavailable to ordinary Russians.

Russian deputies also insisted yesterday that KGB archives be opened to investigators -- a blow that would go right to the heart of the secretive, much-loathed agency.

Outside Russia, other republics were turning against the Communist Party as well.

In Latvia, the government said it was seizing party property and preparing to prosecute party leaders.

Lithuania banned the party and seized its property, and President Vytautas Landsbergis suggested a Nuremberg-style tribunal for the nation's Communists.

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