When Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev returned from plotters' captivity, he seemed like a man who failed to realize how much his country had changed in the 72 hours of struggle, drama and uncertainty. He appointed conservative clones to replace those reactionaries in his inner-circle who had been implicated in the coup. Yesterday, the new reality caught up with Mr. Gorbachev.
During a dramatic day that effectively ended Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev faded into a figurehead rTC position as Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian president, emerged as the man who calls the shots.
It was Mr. Yeltsin who fired the interim Gorbachev appointees in the KGB, armed forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs and selected reformers to clean house.
It was Mr. Yeltsin who ordered the party's main newspapers, including Pravda, suspended and their printing plants confiscated.
It was Mr. Yeltsin, a former Communist boss who quit the party a year ago, who ordered the monster created by Lenin and Stalin to cease its activities in Russia, the largest and most populous of the 15 Soviet republics.
In case there was any confusion about the new power-sharing, Mr. Yeltsin won an agreement to act for Mr. Gorbachev if he becomes incapacitated.
It would be only a slight exaggeration to describe all this as the week's second coup, but the extra-constitutional powers Mr. Yeltsin has bestowed on himself come to close to that. Just as the reactionary gang of eight discarded the Soviet constitution, so has Mr. Yeltsin now taken advantage of the confused situation to become far more than the Russian president voters elected him to be. Unlike the previous coup-masters, he has the democratic interests of his nation at heart, but still we wonder.
The world's view of Mr. Yeltsin has much changed over the years. Those who initially regarded him as a bombastic populist who was using democratic demagoguery as a smoke screen, have altered their assessment. They came to realize that while Mr. Gorbachev was a captive of his communist beliefs and background, Mr. Yeltsin was a man bent on genuine democratic reforms. A year ago, he was the first leader to quit the Communist Party in a realization that Marxism-Leninism and real democracy could not be combined.
His courage and leadership during this week's coup attempt increases our admiration for Mr. Yeltsin. Yet we watch his quick accumulation of extra-constitutional powers with a sense of trepidation. We hope that this is just a temporary phenomenon reflecting his conviction that the gains of democracy must be solidified before they again can be challenged by forces wanting to return the Soviet Union to its Stalinist past.
As a believer in freedom of the press and media throughout the world, The Sun is distressed that Mr. Yeltsin felt it necessary to close down newspapers, whatever their role in the coup attempt. His action is arbitrary, anti-democratic and a bad precedent. It must be strongly condemned.