Limited range of choices to end crisis

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The Independent Online
If Boris Yeltsin tried to rule Russia without the Congress of People's Deputies, he would run into serious difficulties, including resistance from the provinces, opposition within his own administration and the lack of a solid financial and political base for governing the country.

As the crisis gathered pace in Moscow this week, Mr Yeltsin was faced with three choices. The first was to make the best of his defeat and continue to seek some form of power-sharing compromise with Russia's parliament.

The second was to call a referendum to let the people decide whether the presidency or the legislature should be the most powerful arm of government. The third was to dissolve the parliament and impose direct presidential rule.

Mr Yeltsin appears to be hovering between the second and third choices. He is reluctant to take the extreme measure of dissolving Congress, because this would widely be seen as unconstitutional and an excuse for his opponents to act outside the law. In those circumstances, the struggle for power could easily turn into a battle on the streets.

But Mr Yeltsin would face other practical problems. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 15 months ago and Russia's emergence as an independent state, he has neglected to build a party composed of like-minded reformers with branches stretching across the country.

Instead, as the first and only elected leader in Russia's history, he has relied heavily on his direct popular appeal to the masses. The result is that the powerful bosses of Russia's aut onomous republics and provinces have been free to con solidate authority at the expense of Moscow and Mr Yeltsin personally.

Some of these conservative bosses dislike economic reform and the free-for-all of democratic institutions.

But the majority have simply seized the chance to construct fiefdoms of power for themselves, because they resent the heavy hand of central state interference from Moscow.

The provincial bosses are, in fact, doing to Mr Yeltsin exactly what he and the leaders of the other former Soviet republics did to Mikhail Gorbachev in the late Soviet period. Regions such as the Russian Far East, Siberia, and Tatarstan want to run their own affairs, just as Mr Yeltsin wanted Russia to be independent of the Soviet state.

Another obstacle in the way of emergency presidential rule is that Mr Yeltsin and his government lack full control of Russia's financial system. The chairmen of the central bank and the state property agency are answerable to the parliament, and Moscow has experienced severe problems in collecting taxes from the provinces.

To crack down on regional opposition, the President would need to count on the loyalty of the armed forces, the Interior Ministry and the Security Ministry (the former KGB). He would also require the support of the Security Council, an important structure of presidential power that he set up last year to circumvent parliament.

But several of Mr Yeltsin's rivals and potential enemies have bases within these very institutions. One is Alexander Ruts koi, his own Vice-President, who has not disguised his view that Russia's efforts at reform have been a national calamity. Another is Yury Skokov, the Security Council's secretary, who has never shared Mr Yeltsin's enthusiasm for drastic political and economic change.