MOSCOW -- Russia should declare an economic state of emergency before it is ruined, the country's vice president warned yesterday.
The angry comments of Vice President Alexander Rutskoi make him the chief opponent of his boss, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.
The vice president spoke at a meeting of diverse groups opposed to Mr. Yeltsin's drive to create a free market here. Mr. Rutskoi has become the de facto leader of groups as diverse as die-hard Communists, anti-Semitic groups and monarchists, whose only common ground appears to be their anger at free-market prices.
His tongue-lashing of Mr. Yeltsin and his policies came a day before forces for and against Mr. Yeltsin's economic revival plan were to mount opposing demonstrations here.
Mr. Yeltsin lifted government controls on prices Jan. 2 in a move calculated to plunge Russia into a free market painfully but quickly. Mr. Yeltsin has bet that the country will suffer less and for a shorter time by making the transformation immediately rather than gradually.
Prices for everything have gone up at least three times and sometimes 10 times. The price of food provokes the most anger among Russians. But so far, it has not provoked serious unrest.
Mr. Yeltsin, although aware they had very different views, chose Mr. Rutskoi as his running mate in June to get support from less conservative Communists and the military. Mr. Rutskoi was an Afghan war hero. But as his vice president has become increasingly critical of him, Mr. Yeltsin has isolated him from any real power.
Mr. Yeltsin's government had no clearly defined plan for implementing its notion of a market economy, Mr. Rutskoi charged yesterday.
Mr. Rutskoi said the central government had to have more power in regulating the economy. He attacked Mr. Yeltsin for not imposing and enforcing a profit ceiling on industry, but he gave no other concrete examples of what he would do differently.
Today's planned protests for and against Mr. Yeltsin's overnight leap into a free market will be the first serious gauge of people's anger.
Although any snippet of street conversation inevitably contains moans about food prices, there has been so far an underlying tone indicating that people understand they have to pay for the ** devastation Communist economics caused the country.
In their counterdemonstration today, Yeltsin supporters hope to revive the positive memories of the August coup attempt by urging "democrats" to ring the Russian Parliament building with a human chain. That's what they did in August to prevent the hard-line Communists from storming the building.