Yeltsin warms up for showdown by suspending 2

September 02, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin followed through on his promise to make September a hot month politically when he suspended his vice president and deputy prime minister yesterday.

Mr. Yeltsin happens not to have the authority to suspend Alexander Rutskoi, the vice president. Instead, he was making it clear he was putting his government in fighting trim for an autumn offensive against the Russian Parliament.

The Russian president said he was removing Mr. Rutskoi and Vladimir Shumeiko, the deputy prime minister, because of corruption charges against them. The charges against Mr. Rutskoi, a fierce Yeltsin opponent, and Mr. Shumeiko, a devoted Yeltsin supporter, have made politics here a titillating spectacle in the last weeks and months.

The rhetoric only intensified yesterday as Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, the chairman of Parliament, another Yeltsin rival, weighed in on Mr. Rutskoi's behalf.

He said Parliament would quickly convene and overrule Mr. Yeltsin's decree regarding Mr. Rutskoi.

"Even before the session," Mr. Khasbulatov said in a statement, "I declare that the decree is unlawful and shall not be carried out."

That probably won't matter, either.

In a radio interview, a Yeltsin spokesman, Anatoly Krasikov, said the Russian president in fact intends only to ignore Mr. Rutskoi, which he has been doing anyway.

"At present, the president has no orders for Rutskoi," Mr. Krasikov said. "In reality he was the vice president only formally -- but did not carry out any duties. The decree means that the president has no intention of giving him any orders."

The president's press service said the suspension of both men would be in effect only until allegations against them have been investigated.

One Yeltsin aide said that Mr. Shumeiko had requested temporary removal from his job so he could clear his name, the Interfax news agency reported.

A few months ago Mr. Rutskoi, saying he had a "suitcase full of documents" linking Yeltsin allies to corruption, accused Mr. Shumeiko of large-scale graft.

Mr. Shumeiko, one of Mr. Yeltsin's closest advisers, filed a 500 million ruble libel suit against the vice president. And two weeks ago, a presidential corruption commission accused Mr. Rutskoi of funneling government money into a secret Swiss bank account.

Mr. Rutskoi denied the charges and said they were made to thwart his own fight against corruption.

Political pundits, in tones of pain and embarrassment, have complained that the mutual recriminations are badly damaging the government.

Average Russians react more conservatively: They generally feel that change at high levels is bad and that new personalities will only line their own pockets and build their own dachas, enriching themselves just as their predecessors did. It saves money to keep those who have already taken what they want.

Many see the corruption charges as little more than convenient political ammunition, whether true or untrue. Others are beginning to get a little tired of it all.

"The vice president is not a hired hand," Interfax quoted a justice of the Constitutional Court, "but an official having constitutional powers."

Corruption charges aside, the bitter battle between Mr. Yeltsin and the legislature has indeed slowed down economic reform and inhibited resolute action on a myriad of Russian problems.

Mr. Yeltsin said Aug. 19 that he intended to win the battle with Parliament at all costs, probably by calling early elections, which he also doesn't have the authority to do.

He also has made some plans to neutralize the Parliament by using the authority of local government officials, who run 88 regions throughout the country.

According to a plan that emerged after Mr. Yeltsin met with representatives of the regions in August, two officials from each of the regions would be in a new 176-seat legislative body, the Federation Council.

Such a maneuver could allow Mr. Yeltsin to use their authority to force a vote on his proposed Constitution and to limit the powers of the current Parliament. The new constitution calls for a two-chamber parliament. The Federation Council could constitute itself as the upper house, with the lower house formed from the current Parliament.

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