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Russian Crisis: The main players: Boris Yeltsin

AGAIN, he gambled. Again, he won. But this time, the price of Boris Yeltsin's victory has been paid in blood.

President Yeltsin's decision to crush a Communist armed uprising by force was a characteristic dice with destiny for a man whose political career had been built on challenging superior odds. This time, the challenge was different. For the first time, Mr Yeltsin was in a crisis where he had to use military force rather than political arm-twisting, bluff or charismatic appeal to the crowds in order to prevail.

The risk was that the military leaders, whom the Russian President had assiduously courted both before and after he dissolved the conservative parliament on 21 September, would stay neutral and refuse to follow his orders.

For most of the night, the outcome was in doubt; it was only when armoured personnel carriers sped through the Moscow dawn yesterday and surrounded the White House that it was clear the troops were ready to go into action. From that point on, the final outcome of the uprising was never in doubt - only the price in casualties. Before the assault was over, one military aide to Mr Yeltsin said there were 500 dead bodies in the parliament building, though he later retracted that figure.

Few Russians are likely to reproach Mr Yeltsin, who was reluctant to use force, with spilling the blood of the motley collection of hardline Communists and nationalists who tried to overthrow him on Sunday.

The Rutskoi-Khasbulatov uprising is likely to help Mr Yeltsin by discrediting the idea of a return to Communism in Russia once and for all, and widen the President's freedom of manoeuvre. But the long-term effects of the bloody end to the crisis could be a serious setback for Russia's fragile experiment in democracy and constitutional government. (Reuter)

(Photograph omitted)