Yeltsin appears to succeed in isolating powerful foes in upcoming congress

November 25, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Day by day, President Boris N. Yeltsin strengthens his hand against the maneuverings of his opponents.

Over the last week and a half, Russia has witnessed a tactical campaign that has consistently drawn supporters to the president's side, highlighted his opposition's weaknesses and isolated his hard-core foes.

With just six days to go before a crucial session of Russia's congress -- a session that will decide the fate of Mr. Yeltsin's reform program -- the president is staking out for himself a dominant position.

It could easily crumble. The congress is full of former communists who are unhappy with the course of reform, and who at the moment seem unwilling to challenge the president only because of his apparent strength.

They would likely leap for his throat if an opportunity presented itself. A misstep by Mr. Yeltsin could bring his program and his government crashing down.

But as of now the president seems only to be growing stronger. He appears to be heading into the congress with the intention of making as few compromises as possible. Yesterday, one of his sharpest and more powerful critics, Ruslan Khasbulatov, suggested that a deal could be reached to extend Mr. Yeltsin's emergency-decree powers for another year.

Those powers are due to expire in December, and only a few weeks ago it appeared certain that the congress would never agree to an extension, thereby crippling Mr. Yeltsin's authority.

Mr. Khasbulatov, the speaker of both the regular parliament and the special congress, noted that Mr. Yelt

sin had not abused his special powers and that they were still needed in light of "the transitional character of the current period and the need to react promptly to different situations."

Over the weekend, another potential source of opposition, the Civic Union bloc, reached an agreement with Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar on a joint economic program that will involve slightly more government regulation of the transition to a market economy.

The Civic Union claims the allegiance of the managers of the big, Soviet-style state industries, and the loyalties of about a third of the legislators. It is perhaps the most important group within the congress. But, after wavering and grumbling, it has come down for now on Mr. Gaidar's side for several key reasons.

First of all, many of the industrial managers are more enthusiastic over market reform than their political leaders are.

Mr. Gaidar traveled last week to the industrial city of Togliatti, where he won the support of the leaders of the state enterprises. This past weekend, the industrial managers in the city of Tula endorsed the government's program.

Secondly, extremist opponents of the government have been attracting a lot of attention. Many have insisted that Mr. Yeltsin is planning a coup. One group wants to impeach him. An article in Sovietskaya Rossiya said the Gaidar government is taking orders from American intelligence services.

Mr. Yeltsin has suggested several times that the choice is between him and the chaos these opponents would bring -- and the message appears to have made its point among the industrial leaders.

Lastly, other high government ministers have been traveling around Russia, reminding everyone that Mr. Yeltsin is the only figure who commands support across the nation. Their campaign has highlighted his political strength -- and also made clear how in one way the old system is truly gone.

Authority over enterprises and lo

cal governments is still wielded most often by former Communists.

But the nationwide network that used to connect them and amplify their power -- the Communist Pary, in other words -- has been swept away. These men (they're almost all men) have local power, but not the power to act in concert, to challenge someone like Mr. Yeltsin.

In October, Mr. Yeltsin was desperately trying to postpone the congress, which has sweeping powers and meets just twice a year. He failed at that.

Yesterday he was all confidence. "It has become especially obvious now that Russia needs a breathing space away from these completely pointless political confrontations," he told the heads of Russia's constituent republics at a Moscow meeting, next week's congress notwithstanding. "A political truce and a period of stabilization are essential."

Tomorrow, Mr. Gaidar will present the government's economic program to the regular parliament. And, although that program has the general backing of the Civic Union, there could still be trouble.

Several leaders of the bloc would like to get rid of up to four Cabinet members -- which appears to be a distinct possibility -- and some would like to press for further slowdowns in the reforms.

Last week the parliament passed a land ownership bill in a move that was seen as a conciliatory gesture toward the Cabinet. But one legislator, Alexei Surkov, characterized the vote as a "concession through gnashed teeth."

Nonetheless, there seems to be no one who could rally the opposition to Mr. Yeltsin.

Aleksandr Rutskoi, the vice president who is usually at loggerheads with Mr. Yeltsin, left a recent meeting of commodities producers in disgust. He had been hoping to find an alternative program to the government's, he said. But all he heard were vague complaints and no ideas.

He said it is the opposition, and not Mr. Yeltsin, who would have been better off if the congress had been postponed.

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