Russian Crisis: The West unites in its support for President

THE West spoke as one yesterday in declaring that President Boris Yeltsin had had no alternative. Governments from London to Tirana, once the most hardline of Communist capitals, declared his action legal and justified.

John Major said, after being briefed by the Russian ambassador to London, Boris Pankin: 'I do not believe over the last day or so that President Yeltsin had any choice but to act as he did and I very much admire his restraint over recent months. There should be no doubt that he has our total and unequivocal support for the action that he has taken.'

A meeting of European Community foreign ministers in Luxembourg put on a show of unity with a strongly worded declaration of support. While deploring the loss of life in Moscow, they put the blame entirely on Mr Yeltsin's opponents. 'Elements hostile to the democratisation process in Russia carry a heavy responsibility, for having deliberately provoked violence in the Russian parliament and in different parts of the capital,' the Twelve said.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, called Mr Yeltsin's use of force 'proportionate and justified', adding: 'What President Yeltsin needs . . . is proof for his people that we in the West understand the nature of the problem, how it occurred, and that it was necessary to deal with it firmly and quickly.'

Mr Hurd added that there was no question of reassessing this stance in the light of future events. 'The use of force has been decisive, necessary, to deal with this revolt,' he said. 'There is no reason to suppose that repression will go beyond what is needed to deal with a localised revolt.'

Mr Hurd said that negotiations on an EC-Russian partnership agreement on a free-trade area would now be accelerated. A special summit will be brought forward to this month, even though the agreement will not be ready in time. Mr Hurd also said Russian reservations over the enlargement of Nato should be taken into consideration, though he was careful not to say that these should block new members in Central Europe.

Mr Hurd confirmed that during lunch a message had been received from Ruslan Khasbulatov and Alexander Rutskoi asking for guarantees of safety if they surrendered. It had been passed via Italian journalists to the Belgian ambassador. It had simply been bounced back to Moscow, which had said there would be no summary executions.

China was the only big power to hedge its bets. 'We are deeply concerned about the recent bloodshed in Moscow,' the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. 'As a friendly neighbour, we hope to see an end to the conflict and a proper solution to the current situation in the interest of the stability, unity and economic recovery and development of Russia.'

President Sali Berisha of Albania said: 'I am sure there was no other solution. There is no doubt that President's Yeltsin's reaction . . . is a fully legal act which aims at re-establishing order and calm.'