Angry Russian lawmakers debate impeachment case against Yeltsin

President's firing of prime minister aggravates crisis

May 14, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin's critics were so enraged by his firing of the prime minister that by the time they began considering his impeachment yesterday, they had trouble confining themselves to simple charges of genocide, treason and destroying the Soviet Union.

Enumerating the accusations against Yeltsin, Vadim D. Filimonov, chairman of the impeachment committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, even blamed Yeltsin for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

"The destruction of the Soviet Union," Filimonov told the Duma, "made it possible for NATO to move toward our border and bomb Iraq and Yugoslavia in such an impudent way."

Just as many Republicans ardently pursued impeachment charges against President Clinton despite the likelihood of their failure, so are the Communists and their allies chasing after Yeltsin in the face of similar odds.

Just as the Republicans loathe Clinton, so do the Communists hate Yeltsin.

But while Clinton kept trying to elude his Republican adversaries, Yeltsin has reacted by flying into the middle of his.

Tweaking the Communists

On Wednesday, he abruptly fired Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, who was popular with the Communists and had two of their allies in his Cabinet, running the economy and agriculture.

Firing Primakov provoked politicians across the political spectrum because they saw it as a jealous attack by Yeltsin on a politician with higher approval ratings than the president's.

And they assumed it was a declaration of war against the Duma: If the Duma rejects Yeltsin's nominee for prime minister three times, which appears highly possible, Yeltsin must dissolve the Duma and call new elections.

Throughout his career, Yeltsin has repeated a familiar pattern: He has used crises as galvanizers, propelling him out of temporary setbacks or defeats.

If at this low point of frequent illness and fading powers he needed a crisis, he has succeeded in producing a big one.

Duma deputies were declaring that Yeltsin's nominee, Interior Minister Sergei V. Stepashin, would never be confirmed as prime minister. Anti-NATO rhetoric, which had been subsiding, began to rise again.

International Monetary Fund representatives said they couldn't discuss loans to help Russia surmount its financial crisis until there was a government to talk to. The fragile ruble fell below 26 to the dollar, compared with 24.95 Wednesday.

And rumors about nearly everything were circulating everywhere, including one that Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the unpredictable ultranationalist, had been offered a post in the new government.

In the charges read yesterday, Yeltsin is blamed for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, for illegally shelling the parliament during a standoff in October 1993, criminally pursuing a war against Chechnya from 1994 to 1996, destroying the military and pursuing the genocide of the Russian people with economic policies that impoverished them.

"The actions of the president have plunged the Russian people into the deep chasm of suffering and unfortunate decisions, the actions that have a trail of blood and tears," Filimonov concluded.

"Blood and tears. The blood of the killed and the maimed; the tears of the dying, the deprived and humiliated. This blood and these tears are throbbing in our hearts."

Point-by-point rebuttal

Alexander A. Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative to the Duma, spoke in the president's defense. Carefully, legalistically, he offered a rebuttal, citing dates of decrees, actions of parliament, decisions of various courts.

He described the arms later found in the building of the defiant parliament: 166 automatic rifles, 23 automatic pistols, five machine guns, 426 pistols and revolvers, 23 rifles, a grenade thrower, 308 explosive devices, 101 booby traps and 175,000 rounds of ammunition.

He discussed the arming and secession attempts of Chechnya. He explained various provisions of the constitution. And finally, he asserted, no one had to destroy the Soviet Union. It fell apart on its own.

"You are standing before the choice of whether to plunge the country into a crisis and continue to fight for power in a crisis," Kotenkov said, "or to carry out a peaceful change of power under constitutional procedures and through a legal nationwide election."

Kotenkov was referring to presidential elections, which are scheduled for next year.

The Duma is expected to discuss the charges today and perhaps vote on them tomorrow. To lodge a charge against the president, 300 of the 450 Duma deputies must vote for it.

But the president can be removed from office only if the Duma is supported by two-thirds of the Supreme Court, two-thirds of the Constitutional Court and two-thirds of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament.

With the success of such votes considered nearly impossible, Yeltsin and the Duma are left where they are, fighting it out over the prime minister's post, threatening each other all the way, each accusing the other of engineering Russia's destruction.

If the Duma supports even one charge against the president, the official Itar-Tass news agency said last night, quoting a high-level Kremlin source, anything could happen.

"In that case," the Kremlin official reportedly said, ominously, "the president's decisions may be most unexpected."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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