Russian Crisis: Ingratitude adds insult to injury: Andrew Higgins in Moscow finds a jailed deputy hurt by the public's lack of support

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THERE have been many like it before: handwritten essays smuggled out of a Moscow jail by a wife. So many, in fact, the form became almost a cliche of Communism. But what is going on when the signature scawled on the bottom of the page - just above a melodramatic, curt note '5 October, 22nd Militia Precinct, 9:30 Morning' - belongs to Vladimir Isakov, a hardline Communist-nationalist member of what, until tanks blew it up, was Russia's parliament?

One essay is a political rant. The other is more immediate: the angry, uncomprehending account of how the White House was lost and how soldiers allegedly beat him and fellow deputies after escorting them from the wreckage.

It is hard not to feel some sympathy, especially when his wife seems so upset and so like all those other wives, of Jewish refuseniks or jailed dissidents. Never mind that Mr Isakov, a former Communist Party member, lawyer and columnist in the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya, would probably have nothing but contempt for such people had his side won.

'His face was all black, the bridge of his nose was broken and his hand was hurt,' says his wife Galina, describing her visit earlier in the day to the Moscow police station where her husband, one of 1,452 people detained, was being held yesterday. Under Russian law charges must be filed within three days. So far, nothing. 'Here are the two articles he wrote in jail without his glasses.'

What really pains Mr Isakov is not any injury he may have suffered, or even the knowledge that so many people died in a battle that began in earnest on Sunday night. It is that 'the people', in whose name his group, Russian Unity, spoke so loudly in the Congress of People's Deputies, did nothing to help.

Black sarcasm and deep bitterness creep into the essay: 'All those people who watched out of curiosity must certainly have enjoyed this free bullfight. But we were taken into a circle of shame and humiliation. We were told: 'The buses will arrive to take you to the metro station'. But in fact what followed was a beating with sticks, rifle butts and boots. They were throwing things out of the deputies' bags. They were beating everyone.'

Mr Isakov comforts himself with the thought that the soldiers were, after all, really on his side. 'They fulfilled their orders but the majority understood they were doing something illegal, committing a crime.'

This is how he and his colleagues in Russian Unity and other even more hardline groups now under arrest or dead, always viewed Mr Yeltsin. He was a national criminal, his policies a crime against the people. Mr Isakov was always obsessed with Boris Yeltsin. In March he led the battle to get him impeached. When this failed he tried to amend the constitution to emasculate his power. Only when Mr Yeltsin was gone could Russia be saved, restored to its rightful place as a superpower, respected and feared.

The brutality he and his wife complain of could well have been real. Particularly badly beaten, they say, is Sergei Baburin, another lawyer and hardline nationalist. 'We are worried about reports of beatings,' says Helsinki Watch.

For Mr Isakov - and for Alexander Rutskoi, Ruslan Khasbulatov and all the rest - there is a more menacing and enduring problem: why did no one - the army, the people - do anything?. 'We are not murderers,' he quotes a tank commander as telling him. So why, he asks, did a tank division that stormed the Berlin Reichstag in 1945, do the same to the Moscow White House in 1993?