Bloodshed is possible, Yeltsin warns his foes Russian Parliament stands firm

September 24, 1993|By Will Englund and Kathy Lally | Will Englund and Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Tough, dramatic warnings about the threat of violence came out of the Kremlin late yesterday as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin seemed to be trying to force a quick resolution to his two-day standoff with the Parliament.

Mr. Yeltsin's goal, by all appearances, was to sweep aside his opposition through political and psychological pressure; any other option appeared too dangerous.

Both sides held fast to their positions, with Mr. Yeltsin insisting he had dissolved Parliament and Parliament insisting that the vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, was now president. With little prospect of willing compromise evident, each side tried to frighten the other with the prospect of civil war.

"The problem now is nerves," said Andrei Fyodorov, a spokesman for Mr. Rutskoi. "Who will make the first mistake?"

Ominously, two people were reported killed last night in a scuffle outside a military headquarters; by early today,there were no indications the violence would escalate.

Mr. Yeltsin's government declared that it was prepared to meet any armed confrontation that might be launched by the defiant deputies from their headquarters in the Parliament building, also known as the White House.

It decried the distribution of "dangerous weapons" at the White House to "extremists, persons without a definite place of residence, people with psychological problems, criminals and members of Mafia-style groups."

It said it had "sufficient means at its disposal to react adequately and promptly to any acts of provocation."

And, from their stronghold, members of the legislature issued their own warnings.

"We should begin a campaign of civil disobedience," said Sergei Baburin, an arch-conservative from Siberia, "and ignore all the resolutions of the ex-president and his government. We should arrest ex-President Yeltsin and put him on trial."

Either Parliament will win, he said, or democracy will end in Russia. "And blood will be shed," he said, "the blood of the deputies and those outside on the street who support us. Because we will not surrender."

Mr. Yeltsin tried to make surrender look sweet to those of his foes motivated more by an attachment to the deputy's way of life than to ideology. He said if the deputies in the legislature followed his orders and went home, they would get their pay and perquisites for the next year.

He tried to make defeat look inevitable -- telephones and electric power to the White House were cut off yesterday, and emergency power ran the lights.

Last night, the chairman of the Parliament, Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, convened a special session of a stripped-down Congress of People's Deputies, ordinarily a 1,000-member body that meets only a few times a year.

They met at 10 p.m. for an all-night session -- after changing the quorum rules because far fewer than half the members showed up. Mr. Khasbulatov planned to use the Congress, which under the Constitution has more power than the standing Supreme Soviet, to strike back at Mr. Yeltsin.

'We can make a mess'

But the legislators can only act by doing damage, as Mr. Khasbulatov himself conceded.

"We will stop transport from remote places to the center," he said. "We can make a mess of the economy. We have unlimited possibilities."

He said that local councils in 80 of Russia's 88 regions were supporting the Parliament, and he planned to continue rallying opposition to the Kremlin.

Sympathetic local administrations, Mr. Khasbulatov said, would cut off tax payments to the central government.

Right now, said one of the few democratic members of the Congress who chose to appear there last night, Parliament can do little more than debate.

"To reach a compromise you need the political will for it," said Mikhail Mitukov. "Now we are in a situation where the law is on the side of whoever has the power. The next few days will show which side will take the upper hand."

Today, Russia still has two presidents, two Cabinets, two organizations claiming to be the legitimate government. Though Mr. Yeltsin clearly has the upper hand, the invective has been so strong that it has become increasingly difficult to imagine a way for the drama to end.

Yesterday, one of the members of a presidential advisory council, Leonid Smirnyagin, said Mr. Yeltsin had to score a "convincing victory" before the weekend or the regions of this vast country will start seriously turning away from Moscow.

For instance, the president of Yakutia, Mikhail Nikolayev, was in Moscow this week not to choose sides but to secure food and fuel credits from the government so that the many riverside villages in his republic can stock up on supplies before the waters freeze over.

If he -- and his regional counterparts -- discover that the government is too tied up in a power struggle to take care of his needs, that will only spell a further weakening of Moscow's influence in Russia, and of Mr. Yeltsin's.

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