Yeltsin offers compromise to foes in Congress

December 09, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Strategy takes many forms, and yesterday President Boris N. Yeltsin offered a compromise to the wary Russian Congress -- on an issue that he already had won.

Mr. Yeltsin said he would subject several key Cabinet ministers to parliamentary confirmation -- with the implicit understanding that the Congress would in turn approve Yegor T. Gaidar as prime minister.

The Russian leader had his reasons for reopening a contentious proposal that he had seemingly beaten back, just barely, Saturday.

To save his economic reform program, Mr. Yeltsin is playing at conciliation and concession. First he beat his opponents, and now he has turned around and offered them some of what they wanted in exchange for him getting the main prize: keeping the market reforms on track.

"The country does not need a new outbreak of confrontation in the highest echelons of power, but a stability that will largely depend on how steadily the government works," he told the Congress yesterday.

The deputies seemed to be unsure how the idea will go over. They are scheduled to vote today on Mr. Yeltsin's proposal concerning ministerial confirmation and on Mr. Gaidar's appointment as prime minister.

Mr. Yeltsin's proposed compromise would give the Congress confirmation power over the appointments of four ministers who are important but not involved in economic matters: the chiefs of defense, foreign affairs, interior and security.

It could well mean the imminent loss of a job for Andrei Kozyrev, the foreign minister, who is not popular in the Congress.

Mr. Yeltsin clearly believed he needed to take some action to regain the initiative in this session of the Congress, which has been dominated by his foes. He blocked their proposals Saturday only because they needed two-thirds of all 1,040 registered deputies to prevail. The key proposal fell short by four votes.

"As Yeltsin well knows, the deputies feel that Gaidar can be confirmed only if Yeltsin makes concessions," said Alexei Yemilyanov, a member of the president's advisory council.

Anatoly Shabad, a democratic reformer, said he and his colleagues were completely opposed to Mr. Yeltsin's ceding any authority to the legislature. "But as a matter of fact we don't have a real choice. We have to support Yeltsin and Gaidar," he said.

Sergei Stankevich, a Yeltsin aide, said yesterday that the president had decided to offer the compromise after nearly losing Saturday.

Mr. Yeltsin believed, Mr. Stankevich said, that having staved off defeat Saturday, he could now offer a compromise that might settle the issue for good.

The president could not directly connect the nomination of Mr. Gaidar to the Cabinet compromise, Mr. Stankevich said, "but the psychological link is obvious."

The Communists and other hard-core opponents are unlikely to go along with Mr. Gaidar under any circumstances.

But the largest group in the Congress are the so-called centrists, who have generally voted against Mr. Yeltsin this time around, but without much fervor. Mr. Yeltsin appears to be betting that the centrists will accept his compromise and decide against joining another confrontation over Mr. Gaidar.

The threat that hangs over this Congress is the suggestion that if Mr. Yeltsin gets too boxed in, or just too irritated, he might simply announce he was dissolving the whole thing.

Mr. Gaidar, who has been acting (and unconfirmed) prime minister since spring, told the Congress yesterday that his government has abandoned plans for the time being to free the price of oil, which is now at 22 percent of world levels.

The biggest gainer from controlled oil prices would be agriculture, which happens to be represented by a large and pivotal bloc of deputies in the Congress.

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