Russia, leaders evolve from revolution of '93

September 21, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- A year ago today, President Boris N. Yeltsin made good on his prediction that September 1993 would be a "hot" month by going on national television and ordering the recalcitrant parliament to close up shop and go home.

In defiance, his foes set up camp in the Russian White House, holding out for 13 days before violent street fighting brought tanks in response. That was the end of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation.

The event was bloody and shattering, but it was by no means an abrupt dislocation between past and future. It was not like the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 or even the failed coup of 1991, which led to the fall of Communist power and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It was merely a spectacular moment in a series of unfolding events, which began well before 1993 and which continue to this day.

The stories of key players show how Russia has been evolving, sometimes in surprising ways, as it remakes itself as a nation.

* Alexander Rutskoi -- The former vice president was the standard-bearer for Mr. Yeltsin's opposition. He foolishly urged his followers to attack the Ostankino television tower on the evening of Oct. 3. Most were unarmed; dozens were killed.

Mr. Rutskoi had a comic-opera way about him, but when he was arrested Oct. 4 he left the stage with dignity. Mr. Yeltsin had him thrown into Lefortovo Prison. Five months later, he walked out, thanks to a general amnesty proclaimed by the new parliament. Since then, he has been campaigning around the country, saying that he plans to run for president in the next elections. In the process, he has been proving that he was probably a more potent symbol in jail than out.

Yesterday's edition of Izvestia showed him huddling with

Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the new Communist Party -- really a cheap shot at Mr. Zyuganov, who is widely regarded as a serious politician.

* Ruslan Khasbulatov -- The former speaker of the parliament walked out of Lefortovo moments after Mr. Rutskoi, saying only that he was through with politics.

Little was heard from him until things began getting hot in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, Mr. Khasbulatov's home ground. He re-emerged there in a familiar role -- as a leader of the opposition, this time to President Dzhokar Dudaev. His followers took a beating in a battle with Mr. Dudaev's army last week, but Mr. Khasbulatov is nonetheless a force to be reckoned with.

By opposing the independence-minded Mr. Dudaev, Mr. Khasbulatov has found himself on the same side as Mr. Yeltsin.

* Ivan Rybkin -- Of those who holed up in the White House a year ago, he was one of the more realistic ones. Mr. Rybkin knew that to prevail, the parliamentary side had to organize support across the country. It didn't happen.

In the December elections to the new Duma, he ran on the Agrarian Party ticket, won a seat and was elected speaker. He slapped Mr. Yeltsin's face by engineering the amnesty vote, but since then he has tried to make the Duma a serious part of the government. He has tried to work with Mr. Yeltsin's Cabinet.

The Duma reconvenes Oct. 5. There is widespread speculation that Mr. Rybkin may try to turn up the heat on Mr. Yeltsin, perhaps with a no-confidence vote directed at Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

* Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- The flamboyant nationalist shrewdly stayed away from the White House last year. For one thing, he supported Mr. Yeltsin's notion of a strong presidency -- because he hopes to have the job himself.

Lying low in October enabled him to shout in December, and he rode the wave of discontent that followed the showdown between Mr. Yeltsin and the parliament.

Some believe his moment in the sun is fading, but he still commands the second-largest party in Russia.

* Pavel Grachev -- The minister of defense came to Mr. Yeltsin's rescue a year ago and sent in the tanks. He is not very popular with his officers, but he has a lot of political capital in the bank. He stood up for Russia on the largely symbolic, but dicey, Black Sea Fleet dispute with Ukraine, yet oversaw the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltics.

He'd like to get the Border Troops under his control, which would give him the growing quagmire of Tajikistan, beset by civil war and Russian intervention, to contend with.

* Viktor Chernomyrdin -- The one-time Oil Ministry bureaucrat was expected to put the brakes on reform when the old parliament forced him on Mr. Yeltsin as prime minister in December 1992. He didn't. It was thought that he might break with Mr. Yeltsin during the political crisis of the following spring. He didn't.

By September 1993, it came as no surprise that Mr. Chernomyrdin was firmly in Mr. Yeltsin's camp. He's widely viewed as conservative by instinct, but privatization continues. As Mr. Yeltsin has withdrawn from politicking and arm-twisting, Mr. Chernomyrdin is now virtually in charge of running the government.

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