Yeltsin coolly recalls revolt aimed at toppling him

October 05, 1994|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin sat amid the imposing marble walls of a Kremlin hall yesterday, looking tough and cool himself, and remembered the chaos so narrowly avoided one year ago.

On Oct. 4, 1993, the world held its breath as Russian army tanks fired on the nation's White House, each shell reverberating with potential disaster for Mr. Yeltsin and all of Russia.

The president, who was battling a parliamentary revolt, prevailed, at the cost of 147 lives and a traumatic blow to the national spirit.

Speaking in firm, measured tones to reporters at a news conference yesterday, Mr. Yeltsin assured his countrymen and the world that Russia had not only survived the threat of a year ago but had surmounted it.

"We faced a profound constitutional crisis," he said, "and the threat of disintegration of the country. The main thing is that a second October [1917 Bolshevik] Revolution did not occur."

Mr. Yeltsin carefully enumerated the accomplishments of the last year. Inflation is down to about 5 percent a month from 25 percent, he said, and savings are up.

He was pleased with his trip to the United States, where a 30-minute meeting with President Clinton turned into three hours of looking "eye-to-eye" and speaking openly and honestly.

"The Americans understood that Russia is not a weak country," Mr. Yeltsin said. "No, Russia is a great power and it will continue to be, especially with the strengthening of our economy and since we have decided to act a bit stronger than before on reforms."

He described a new harmony in political life, even admitting the possibility of his opponents, such as Communists, joining the government.

After a four-hour meeting Saturday, he said, he and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed to speed up the pace of reforms. And he said he had sent 40 bills dealing with social and economic issues to the State Duma, which opens its fall session today.

"Our biggest gain is that we have achieved a political and economic consensus," he said. "We are building a new Russia without evil, blood and deception."

His opponents have managed only small demonstrations over the last few days, throwing together marches of the dispossessed and disheartened. People waving flags of the monarchy have walked shoulder to shoulder with those bearing the red flag of its slayer, communism. Among them flutter banners with depictions of the face of Jesus.

Yesterday, perhaps 1,000 anti-Yeltsin demonstrators formed a human chain around the Russian White House, which a year ago was left a charred ruin.

Yesterday, the building stood impassively, now the home of the government instead of the parliament. It looked grand after a multimillion-dollar restoration. A crushing rain soon swept away all but the most ardent demonstrators -- and those with the sturdiest umbrellas.

A similar downpour last year -- when it was bright and unseasonably sunny -- could easily have changed the course of history.

While Mr. Yeltsin's authority may have wavered in those uncertain days, yesterday his control was evident. He was managing things so well, no one was permitted to ask an embarrassing question.

Only reporters who had submitted questions in advance were called on.

And foreign reporters, who might risk asking questions different from those submitted, were passed up.

So, no one asked what happened to Mr. Yeltsin at Shannon Airport, when he failed to get off his airplane to meet the Irish prime minister. The Irish papers have been having a field day with rumors that the presidential plane requested permission to circle for an hour before landing.

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