Yeltsin and parliament work out compromise Russian leader still to guide reforms

April 15, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Staff Writer

MOSCOW HRB — MOSCOW -- A compromise preserving Boris N. Yeltsin's reform program was worked out between the Congress of People's Deputies and the Cabinet yesterday, averting a crisis that appeared to threaten the Russian president's government.

By yesterday, the political turbulence that had looked so threatening turned out to be more like a thunderstorm that clears the air, in the words of one official.

It was the Congress, after all, that did most of the compromising as the realization spread throughout the day that at this point there is not much of an alternative to Mr. Yeltsin's headlong plunge toward a market economy.

The young ministers making up his Cabinet had submitted a group resignation Monday and then stomped out of the session of Congress. But yesterday they were back in the hall, and their leader, Gennady Burbulis, declared that resignations were no longer necessary.

"They know their business and they came to work," Yegor Gaidar, first deputy premier, said of his fellow ministers.

Thus Mr. Yeltsin's government seemed close to weathering successfully the Sixth Congress of People's Deputies, a large constitution-making body that meets every six months and contains a large portion of Communists elected back in the days of the Soviet Union.

In a defiant mood, the Congress voted Saturday to cut Mr. Yeltsin's power and to water down his economic program. But that defiance slipped away yesterday, apparently for several reasons:

* A large group of deputies that might be termed a "centrist" block, which had turned against Mr. Yeltsin earlier, came to see that an economic program run by the parliament might prove as disastrous as Mr. Gaidar was predicting. Some wondered whether the Congress was being realistic in voting, as it did Saturday, to cut taxes and raise salaries to help Russians cope with the hardships of a freed economy.

* Mr. Yeltsin's allies were making noises about going directly to the public with some sort of referendum if thwarted by the Congress. That could have led to a real crisis of government, very possibly resulting in no Congress at all. Over the last two days, one congressional leader acknowledged, telegrams from the public have been running almost 60 percent in favor of Mr. Yeltsin's government.

* In case anyone was wondering about the fate of $24 billion in Western aid promised just two weeks ago, U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady was in Moscow yesterday and met with Mr. Gaidar. Mr. Brady said he did not want to interfere in Russian affairs but pointed out that the $24 billion was dependent on the government maintaining the world's confidence in its reform program. He termed some of the Congress' decisions "steps backward."

U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III added his own support of Mr. Yeltsin after word of the compromise reached him.

"He is attempting something that is very, very courageous: trying to reform the entire system -- politically, socially, economically -- and convert it into something very different from what it has been," Mr. Baker said. "And, of course, he enjoys the full support of the United States."

Throughout the morning in Moscow, a group of leaders of the Congress met with Cabinet officials and worked out the compromise, which was then submitted to the Congress.

They tried to argue that there had been a perfectly plausible misunderstanding over statistics and that once the misunderstanding was cleared up, amid expressions of sudden discovery, there was hardly any difference in their positions.

But Mr. Yeltsin will retain the authority to appoint the Cabinet. An amendment requiring those appointments to be approved by the people's deputies later failed.

And the Cabinet will retain control over the economic program.

It is to carry out the "will" of the Congress while "taking into account real economic and social conditions."

The Cabinet did agree to some wage and price controls, but those will be administered by the Cabinet itself. The compromise would extend until July; Mr. Gaidar said yesterday the ministers need to stay together to carry out the reforms at least until December.

The Congress voted easily to accept the compromise for consideration. Debate begins today. It is open to amendment, and between now and Saturday, when the session ends, almost anything could happen.

Since last week, Mr. Yeltsin has remained out of public view. He is reportedly planning to make a dramatic return to the Congress at what he deems to be the decisive moment, confident he can then sweep to victory.

But the opponents of the government still have some life left. A move by democrats to oust Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who had publicly sneered at the ministers Monday, prompting their walkout, failed miserably yesterday.

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