Yeltsin assumes the chores of government: Helen Womack in Moscow looks at decrees issued by the Russian President for an indication of how he is using his enormous power

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The Independent Online
UNTIL new parliamentary elections are held in December, President Boris Yeltsin alone decides what happens in Russia. How is he using this enormous power? Has he become a dictator? The best way to judge is to examine the decrees he has issued since the great bombshell decree of 21 September abolishing the Soviet-era legislature.

Many of his orders, it turns out, are of a technical nature and it is interesting to see that the President gets involved in the minutiae of government which, one might have thought, he would have left to lower officials. For example, he has decrees on paying farmers for their production, strengthening tax collection, ensuring authors' copyright, prolonging the validity of privatisation vouchers and budgeting for road works in 1993.

By decree, Mr Yeltsin gives state awards, for example to Russia's border guards, and, of course, after the fighting around the White House last week, to people who showed either exceptional bravery or loyalty to him. The Interior Minister, Viktor Yerin, is made a Hero of the Russian Federation. Critics say he bungled the policing of Moscow allowing the hardliners to launch an armed uprising but the President apparently valued his fidelity more than his competence.

By decree, the President also hires and fires. Most staff changes are connected with the recent political drama, for example the dumping of Prosecutor Valentin Stepankov, perceived by Mr Yeltsin to be unreliable, the appointment of a close aide, Vladimir Shumeiko, as Information Minister, and the rewarding of parliamentary defector Sergei Stepashin with a job in government. The dismissal of Vice- President Alexander Rutskoi is purely a formality since Mr Yeltsin had already suspended the rebel leader. The sacking of the Foreign Trade Minister, Sergei Glazyev, is probably to do with a row over corruption back in the summer. His removal went unnoticed by journalists in all the White House chaos.

After the storming of the White House, Mr Yeltsin ordered a curfew to protect citizens from snipers who were believed to be still at large. Alexander Kulikov said this week that after issuing the decree appointing him Commandant of Moscow, Mr Yeltsin left him free to take decisions and went off on his official visit to Japan. Human rights groups have accused the police of racism in targeting Caucasians in what has become a general crackdown on crime. Mr Yeltsin's decree did not order this but that is how it has been interpreted on the ground.

The rest of the President's decrees have been political in nature. A whole sheaf of specific orders were needed to transfer the functions of the dissolved parliament to the government. For example, the Chairman of the Central Bank, Viktor Gerashchenko, had to be formally reappointed because before his authority was granted by the assembly. Likewise, the state pension fund passed to cabinet control.

Under the heading of 'Steps to Constitutional Reform', Mr Yeltsin issued a series of decrees preparing for the elections.