Russian Crisis: Nazi salutes mock echo of a finer hour: Andrew Higgins witnessed Communists and fascists fighting side by side at the blockaded White House

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THEY MIMICKED the finest hour of their grandfathers, the Soviet soldiers who clambered on to the roof of the Reichstag in 1945 to wave red flags for the cameras.

Never mind that the original image had been posed; the victory it celebrated was real. Yesterday, though, it was Moscow that swirled at the feet of young fighters with Soviet flags. Kalinin Prospekt was littered with wrecked water trucks - the remnants of a shattered police blockade - shards of glass, a pool of blood, three Buddhist monks banging drums and chanting for peace, and groups of Muscovites hacking razor wire into keepsake-size strands as souvenirs of Boris Yeltsin's humiliation.

No, they did not mimic - they mocked: it was shortly after 5pm when they reached the roof of what, until the collapse of the empire forged in Berlin, had housed the headquarters of Comecon, the Communist trading bloc, but, more recently, provided offices for the International Monetary Fund and the Mayor of Moscow. This, more than the White House itself near by, was the real prize of yesterday's confrontation.

So how did they celebrate its capture? They beat up two minor officials, marching them from the building with blood on their faces. Others were hunted down floor by floor. Then the victors got to the roof. 'Glory to Russia,' they yelled.

Suddenly, the brittle memories of any past triumphs they had wanted to hijack exploded. Perhaps they were too young even to remember; they stretched out their right arms, their hands clutching guns at their sides, and gave Moscow a Nazi salute.

Was it for this that blood had been spilt? And whose was the victory?

'Victory will be ours,' shouted Sergei Baburin from the White House balcony. The crowd cheered but seemed disappointed. Had they not already won? But Mr Baburin, a clever former lawyer and the driving force behind the Red-Brown (Communist-fascist) alliance of the National Salvation Front, knows better. 'Blood will be spilt.'

Red flags fluttered everywhere; the Communist Party of Russia boasted its role on a long red banner with white lettering. So too did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, killed off by Mr Yeltsin two years ago but still alive, at least in the minds of heavy-fisted men in pork-pie hats who congratulated each other yesterday outside the White House.

At 6pm, inside the White House, Ruslan Khasbulatov strode through a chandeliered hall decorated with portraits of Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible and into the main debating chamber.

It was an entrance designed for effect - not his usual discreet entree from behind the curtain but a triumphal march down the middle of the hall from the back. Deputies applauded, though not perhaps with the gusto he had expected. And even Mr Khasbulatov seemed unsure what was being celebrated. He looked terrified. I stuck a microphone into his face. 'Is this your victory?' 'What do you think,' he replied with a smirk. That it might not last, though, was clear from the six young men with blank stares and ready guns who escorted him.

On the side of a bus commandeered by the rabble was the slogan of the state lottery: 'Play and Win - Make your dreams come true.' It was painted a jaunty yellow. Moscow last night swirled with far too many nightmares.