Russian Crisis: Rabble-rouser Rutskoi dreams of presidency

Click to follow
The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MOSCOW - Russia's rebel Vice-President, Alexander Rutskoi, whose call for mass protest was answered dramatically on the streets of Moscow yesterday, is a military officer who never concealed his presidential ambitions.

A tough-talking, Afghan war hero, the 46-year-old former fighter pilot attracted support for his fiery nationalism long before he was elected alternative president by beleaguered deputies after the dissolution of parliament 12 days ago.

Mr Rutskoi had been on a collision course with President Boris Yeltsin for several months after distancing himself from Mr Yeltsin's free-market reforms, and on 1 September was suspended from his duties amid allegations of corruption.

A moustachioed veteran with 28 years in the armed forces, Mr Rutskoi was chosen by Mr Yeltsin as running mate in the presidential election of June 1991 to ensure the support of the military.

He was promoted to the rank of general for his active resistance with Mr Yeltsin to the failed coup against then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991.

But since then Mr Rutskoi has acted as a spokesman for the fears and concerns of Russian-speaking communities in the former republics of the Soviet Union that are now independent. He has been particularly scathing in his attacks on what he terms the 'anarchy' unleashed by economic liberalisation.

In March 1992 he denounced the 'economic genocide of the Russian people' which he said was being advocated by the reformist Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, who was forced to resign last December. The virulence of his rhetoric finally prompted Mr Yeltsin to demand that Mr Rutskoi decide - once and for all - which side he was on.

Mr Rutskoi chose to remain with Mr Yeltsin and curbed his tongue. But he also moved closer to Russia's all-powerful industrial leader, Arkady Volski, with whom he eventually formed the Civic Union movement. On 20 April, five days before a watershed referendum on Mr Yeltsin and his reforms, Mr Rutskoi declared that if Mr Yeltsin were defeated, he would run for president himself.

Mr Rutskoi's detractors contend that he operates in an ideological vacuum. But yesterday it was Mr Rutskoi who, from the balcony of the White House, rallied protesters from the balcony of the White House, urging them to storm City Hall and to take control of the Ostankino central television headquarters.

In response, hundreds of demonstrators marched into City Hall, 100 metres from parliament, and took control of at least five floors of the tall building. They then marched on the Ostankino headquarters which went off the air a few hours later.

Later last night, the parliamentary speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, told deputies still in the White House that 'the Kremlin must be taken tonight'. Mr Rutskoi, waiting in the wings of the unfolding drama, remained in the parliament building.