Yeltsin says he might seize power

June 23, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin threatened yesterday to disband Russia's combative parliament and rule by decree, raising the specter of another dramatic power struggle like the 1993 confrontation that ended in gunfire.

Mr. Yeltsin parried legislators' no-confidence vote with a demand that the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, revoke its decision within 10 days and cooperate with the leadership or concede all power to the increasingly erratic chief executive.

The veiled threat of what would constitute at least a temporary dictatorship came a day after the Duma vote condemning Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and his Cabinet for their handling of last week's deadly hostage-taking incident in the town of Budyonnovsk.

The Duma vote was as much a censure of Mr. Yeltsin, who left Russia in the midst of the crisis to attend a largely ceremonial gathering of world leaders in Canada, as it was a denunciation of Mr. Chernomyrdin and the defense and police ministries for what was considered their failure to protect the Russian public.

Mr. Yeltsin deflected the reprimand by calling on the Duma to revoke that vote or face dismissal. If the deputies refuse and issue a second no-confidence vote, Mr. Yeltsin would be compelled by the constitution to choose between firing Mr. Chernomyrdin and his Cabinet or disbanding the Duma.

If he disbanded parliament, he would be required to call new elections within four months but would rule unchallenged during the campaign season.

At a televised meeting with the Cabinet, he made clear his preference for his government over a parliament that has blocked many of his economic and political reforms.

"The Duma may sign its own death sentence," Mr. Yeltsin said after the session during which Mr. Chernomyrdin called on the deputies to reconsider.

Mr. Yeltsin got rid of another uncooperative legislature in October 1993, when he sent troops and tanks to crush an armed revolt by political opponents who had barricaded themselves inside the Russian parliament building.

That deadly crackdown served to strengthen the opposition's resolve, said Mikhail N. Afanasyev of the Presidential Analytical Center in Moscow. He predicted that Mr. Yeltsin would refrain from disbanding parliament and thus avoid "stepping on the same rake twice."

Mr. Yeltsin hinted that he might offer a face-saving means for the Duma to reverse itself by sacking high officials considered responsible for allowing the Budyonnovsk massacre, in which 121 people were killed, according to the latest death toll.

Mr. Chernomyrdin's concession to peace talks with the Chechen rebels as a condition for the release of more than 1,000 hostages grabbed in Budyonnovsk also may have bolstered the prospects for a negotiated conclusion to the 6-month-old war in Chechnya, which could provide another pretext for reversing the no-confidence vote.

News media and Kremlin officials have been effusive in predicting a settlement. Mr. Yeltsin publicly conceded for the first time that his government may have "lacked political will and flexibility" in earlier negotiations and that it had depended too much on strong-arm tactics.

In a letter, Mr. Chernomyrdin appealed to the fractious Duma to support his government "to overcome the political crisis as soon as possible" for the good of the country and the economy. He said he was calling for an immediate vote of confidence to break a political logjam threatening to stall adoption of a 1996 budget, resolution of the conflict in Chechnya and legislation needed for scheduled parliamentary elections in December.

Mr. Yeltsin's sparking of the current confrontation was apparently deliberate, since he could have ignored Wednesday's symbolic vote by the Duma. The president is required to respond only after a second no-confidence vote within a three-month period.

Some analysts predicted that Mr. Yeltsin would fire Interior Minister Gen. Viktor F. Yerin or the head of state security forces, Sergei V. Stepashin, to create the appearance that he was responding to the Duma's criticism and thereby give the deputies a face-saving way of reversing their no-confidence vote.

A session of the Russian Security Council has been called for Thursday to review the Budyonnovsk debacle and assign blame.

Presidential aide Georgi A. Satarov dismissed as "pure blackmail" suggestions by Duma deputies that they might back off their no-confidence vote if the right heads rolled.

Communist Party deputies have launched an impeachment campaign against Mr. Yeltsin, but they would have to prove criminal negligence to unseat him.

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