Russian Congress' challenge to Yeltsin's regime collapses

April 16, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin's team of ministers easily clinched their victory at the Russian Congress yesterday, winning the power to plunge ahead with economic reforms and leaving behind the distinct impression that their opponents prefer drama to action.

The ruckus kicked up by Communists and Russian nationalists within the Congress of People's Deputies in an attempt to thwart Mr. Yeltsin has come to virtually nothing. It may actually have strengthened Mr. Yeltsin's hand.

But it was a good ruckus while it lasted.

Once, a whole epoch ago, a Soviet Congress consisted of hundreds of men and women holding up little cards to vote their approval of whatever it was they were told to approve.

Now, it's as though 70 years of bottled-up emotion and spontaneity are flooding out.

Deputies have taken great glee in denouncing the Cabinet. It was incompetent, said one. Immature, said another. Fleecing the people, said a third.

The hall of the Great Kremlin Palace has rung with their denunciations. Yesterday witnessed a cascade of catcalls and heckling throughout the session.

But it was on Saturday evening that the opposition pounced, headlong. The Congress voted to peel away Mr. Yeltsin's power and put control of the economy in the hands of the parliament.

The vote may have been a grand gesture, but it was not the beginning of parliamentary power.

Deputies peered into the abyss of responsibility yesterday and stepped back, handing Mr. Yeltsin control over the government by a vote of 578 to 203.

But the opposition had no monopoly on gestures. There was the entire Cabinet, led by Gennady Burbulis and Yegor Gaidar, walking out of the Congress Monday after what they took to be an insult from the speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov.

(Mr. Khasbulatov insulted them again yesterday, telling the Italian newspaper Repubblica that he viewed many of them as he would "worms," but by this time the Cabinet was winning so no one got too steamed up.)

The Cabinet submitted a mass resignation. Over at City Hall, Mayor Gavriil Popov said he would resign, too, if the Congress thwarted Mr. Yeltsin. It was only four months ago that Mr. Popov was resigning to protest Mr. Yeltsin's policies.

Delegates from St. Petersburg, known during the Communist era as Leningrad, walked out of the session when the Congress briefly balked at recognizing the city's restored name.

Vladimir Lukin, both a deputy and Russia's new ambassador to Washington, surveyed the wreckage earlier this week and heaved a sigh. The U.S. Congress and the White House frequently don't get along, he observed. But there all the players generally know their places, and they've got to keep an eye on tomorrow, and every time there's a fight it doesn't threaten the very foundations of the government, he said.

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