Yeltsin battles on as move to impeach fails

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The Independent Online
OPPONENTS of President Boris Yeltsin suffered a humiliating defeat yesterday when the State Duma failed to muster enough votes to impeach him on any of five charges that he had ruined post-Soviet Russia.

Four of the accusations were widely seen as tendentious but it was expected that, with the help of liberals, the Communist-dominated Duma would find Mr Yeltsin guilty of abuse of power in launching the war against Chechnya in 1994. In the event, even that charge fell short of the 301 votes needed to start the impeachment process, with only 283 deputies condemning the President.

Communists demanded the names of 46 deputies who spoilt their ballot papers and one left-wing MP, Alexander Kravets, alleged that he had been offered a bribe to miss the vote.

Mr Yeltsin, who spent the day at his Rus residence, contemptuously ignoring the vote, in the same way that Bill Clinton scorned his impeachment earlier this year, was likely to be satisfied. However, it remained to be seen whether the result would ease or exacerbate tensions on Russia's streets. All day outside the Duma, police separated pro-Yeltsin demonstrators from a crowd of Communists in a powerful symbol of the division of society after nearly a decade of badly executed market reforms.

Apart from the charge over war in the Caucasus, Mr Yeltsin was accused of four other crimes: treachery in breaking up the Soviet Union in 1991; abusing his power by sending tanks against parliament in 1993; destroying the defence capability of the Russian army; and "genocide against the Russian people" by so impoverishing them that their life expectancy fell.

Before the final vote, leaders of the party factions had their final say on whether to remove Mr Yeltsin from power. "Anyone who votes to spare Yeltsin is voting for new Chechnyas, for more corruption, for more anarchy," thundered Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communists, who were under party instructions to find the President guilty on all five counts.

Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko faction which had decided to condemn Mr Yeltsin for the bloody Chechnya misadventure only, declared: "As far as this President is concerned, we are all just human rubbish and building material for his endless megalomania."

Support for the President came predictably from Vladimir Ryzhkov, head of the Our Home is Russia party, which has been associated with the Yeltsin administration. It might be profitable for MPs to impeach in a parliamentary election year, he said, but they should think not of wooing disgruntled voters but of fairness and the truth. The Communists passed judgement as if they themselves were without sin. The nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky also backed the President, saying that only a person lacking all sense of history could blame one man for Russia's sufferings. "The collapse of our country has been going on since 1917," he declared.

Whether some moderate Communists were swayed by the arguments, or lost their nerve for a fight with Mr Yeltsin, will probably never be known. Commentators suggested that some Communists might have tried to satisfy their angry constituents by voting for impeachment, but only on the charges they knew were unlikely to pass.

Mr Yeltsin yesterday called for the Duma to continue its work, but the vote may not bring about a more conciliatory atmosphere in Moscow. A grimmer scenario is also possible.

The impeachment might have acted as a safety valve for opposition anger, but some observers believe that the deputies, deprived of their satisfaction, are more likely to be obstructive when it comes to endorsing Mr Yeltsin's choice of new Prime Minister. And that could lead to a head-on collision with a President who always likes to get his way.