Yeltsin backers claim the edge in Russian crisis President's foes call for elections by end of the year

September 27, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin's supporters began to claim victory in Moscow yesterday as the opposition found voice a meeting in St. Petersburg.

"Though we celebrate victory," said Anatoly Shabad, a Yeltsin backer and member of parliament, "it's a bitter victory.

"We can't rejoice because people who used to be with us are now against us."

As Mr. Shabad made his remarks to an exuberant pro-Yeltsin rally in Moscow, leaders of more than half of Russia's regional legislatures met in St. Petersburg in an attempt to blunt the president's success in the showdown against Russia's anti-reform Parliament.

They called for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of this year, a compromise suggested by Valery Zorkin, chief judge of Russia's Supreme Court.

Mr. Yeltsin, who last Tuesday dissolved the Communist-dominated Parliament and ordered new popular elections for December, seemed confident, victorious and in little need of compromise.

At noon, smiling and relaxed, he joined a huge throng in Red Square to listen to the National Symphony Orchestra from Washington, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, once a dissident here.

The orchestra played Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composer's death. Church bells rang and cannons -- used in the 1812 victory over Napoleon -- were fired under sunny but cold weather.

After the concert, about 15,000 pro-Yeltsin demonstrators gathered nearby and then marched a few blocks to Moscow City Hall. Bearing red, white and blue Russian flags and carrying pictures of Mr. Yeltsin, they shouted "Yeltsin, Yeltsin" and "down with Communism."

Olga Savelyeva, a 46-year-old engineer, said that if Mr. Yeltsin's opponents -- now holed up in the Russian Parliament's White House -- prevailed, civil war would follow.

"I'd go and fight myself," said the slender woman, who looked 20 years older than her years. "Those who support the parliament and are there now are party functionaries who have lost their privileges and old people who took part in the Second World War. The ideals they fought for have been destroyed. Now they live in the past, and find some small consolation by standing outside the White House."

A pensioner, 63-year-old Yulia Yerokhina, said the only reason the Yeltsin crowd was not larger was that the president had already won.

"He doesn't need us today," she said. "When he does, we'll be there."

In St. Petersburg, Viktor Stepanov, chairman of the local parliament in Karelia and an organizer of the anti-Yeltsin meeting, said that while some members of the national parliament were adamantly opposed to any compromise with the president, others were ready to listen, the Interfax News Agency reported.

While the St. Petersburg meeting was going on, Alexander V. Rutskoi -- the president appointed by the parliament in retaliation against Mr. Yeltsin -- was meeting with his allies inside the White House.

One member of parliament said Mr. Rutskoi had been on the telephone to St. Petersburg, outlining his negotiating position.

But a few minutes later, Mr. Rutskoi emerged from his candle-lit office (Mr. Yeltsin has turned off the electricity) and vehemently denied any prospect of compromise.

"I haven't talked to St. Petersburg because they've cut off all of our communications," Mr. Rutskoi said. "I don't need any negotiations with citizen Yeltsin."

Mr. Rutskoi called for a general strike beginning at 3 p.m. today. "The purpose is to display civil protest against the Yeltsin regime," he said, "and to demand his immediate resignation."

Mr. Rutskoi said there was no reason to fear that widespread strikes would destroy an already badly damaged economy. "Nothing can do any more harm than Yeltsin has already done," he said.

And nothing, he said, would make him surrender.

Violence seemed less and less likely yesterday. After speaking with reporters, Mr. Rutskoi marched quickly around the White House, leading several thousand supporters through the police lines that have sealed off the building.

The police -- many with steel helmets hanging around their necks and wearing bulletproof vests -- calmly pulled back and removed their barricades to let the marchers pass. Mr. Rutskoi periodically stopped to shout at them through a bull horn that they were protecting a criminal regime.

"You're guarding a fascist regime," he said. Some police officers showed no emotion; others smiled slightly. And the only signs of fascism were among Rutskoi supporters -- some members of his irregular guard wore swastika patches on their shoulders.

Even as the prospect of bloodshed diminished, the meeting in St. Petersburg was a reminder of the deep split in the country.

Forty of the nation's 68 local legislatures were represented there, but only nine of the local executives.

Russia's local legislatures tend to be smaller, equally conservative versions of the national legislature.

The local presidents gravitate toward Mr. Yeltsin, favoring faster, more drastic economic reforms.

Presidential advisers have suggested in the last few days that if regional legislatures begin to resist Mr. Yeltsin, perhaps they, too, will be dissolved.

Some regional leaders have retorted that perhaps they will withhold payment of taxes and deliveries of oil, gas and food to Moscow.

The only way out, said Mr. Zorkin, the chief judge of the Supreme Court, is the "zero option." Both sides, he said, have to rescind their decrees of the last week and start over with new elections for both.

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