Yeltsin moves to punish Rutskoi

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The Independent Online
President Boris Yeltsin yesterday moved to punish his deputy, Vice- President Alexander Rutskoi, for being disloyal to him in his power struggle with the Soviet-era parliament. He also appointed a former moderate Communist, Oleg Lobov, as First Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy.

Local news agencies quoted Mr Yeltsin as saying he intended to take from Mr Rutskoi the portfolio of agricultural reform, and the Vice-President's spokesman said his boss had already had to give up his imported Mercedes car, his personal doctor and 17 of his 20 bodyguards. Mr Yeltsin, who earlier this week said it was impossible to work with a man who did not share his reformist vision, would no doubt love to sack Mr Rutskoi from the vice-presidency but he cannot do this as the two men were both elected by the Russian people in 1991.

Mr Rutskoi, an Afghan-war veteran who, during parliament's attempts to impeach Mr Yeltsin last month, made clear his sympathy for the deputies, has said he will not resign as Vice- President as Mr Yeltsin himself may not survive politically for much longer. According to Interfax news agency, Mr Yeltsin was particularly angered by a remark attributed to Mr Rutskoi that the move towards private farming was a 'historic mistake due to be corrected'. Mr Rutskoi's spokesman denied that his boss had said such a thing and insisted he was a keen supporter of private farms.

The appointment of Mr Lobov, 55, suggested Mr Yeltsin was seeking common ground with centrists and looking for help in rescuing the economy from someone he knew and trusted. In the Soviet era, Mr Lobov was first deputy prime minister in the Russian republican government of Ivan Silayev and he built up good contacts with industrial leaders. Mr Lobov's spokesman said: 'All I can tell you is that he is going to be First Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy.' This means he will be senior to the liberal Deputy Prime Minister Boris Fedorov, who is responsible for economic reform.

The government changes came less than two weeks before Russians are due to vote in a referendum on who rules the country, the President or parliament. Mr Yeltsin was hardly charismatic when he kicked off a campaign tour in the Siberian mining city of Novokuznetsk this week, but he has been more fiery since he returned to Moscow. Meanwhile, his rival, the parliamentary chairman, Ruslan Khasbulatov, has gone to St Petersburg to drum up support.

Speaking in the Kremlin yesterday, Mr Yeltsin said he intended to ignore unfair rules set by parliament for the referendum, whereby, in order to be endorsed, the President must win the support of at least 50 per cent of the total electorate rather than 50 per cent of votes cast. Mr Yeltsin said that if a majority of voters taking part rejected early parliamentary elections, then he would resign. But if at least half of those voting backed him, then he would interpret this as a moral victory, move to 'neutralise' parliament and introduce a new constitution. The head of Russia's Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, who tends to favour Mr Khasbulatov in the political row, said Mr Yeltsin's approach could provoke civil war.