Yeltsin fiddles as Russia broods

Phil Reeves/Anna Bakhen
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PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin spent another day yesterday brooding over what to do next in his stand-off with parliament, as food and fuel shortages and panic-buying gathered momentum across the country.

Leaderless, bankrupt and bewildered, Russia waited for news of the President's plans, amid new warnings that deepening economic misery could turn into unrest.

The latest of these comes from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexei II, who has consistently supported Mr Yeltsin, and the ruling elite of politicians and oligarchs that loosely coalesced around him during better days. "The worst thing that the current political crisis could bring is civil war, for surely blood always divides," the cleric said.

Similar fears were expressed by the head of the Communists, Gennady Zyuganov, who warned that there could be a social explosion if Mr Yeltsin decides to nominate Viktor Chernomyrdin for a third, final time, after the premier's decisive rejection by the State Duma on Monday.

If Mr Chernomyrdin loses again, and the Duma is disbanded, then there would be trouble, he warned. "To disband the Duma means to disband the Russian Federation. I am afraid we will have uprisings throughout Russia."

Pressure is growing on Mr Yeltsin to abandon Mr Chernomyrdin, and nominate a compromise candidate, although there are signs that he may find it hard to recruit a leader who is both acceptable to the Duma and willing to grasp what amounts to a poisoned chalice.

The Communists and the liberal Yabloko party both would vote for Yevgeny Primakov, the foreign minister, but yesterday he issued a statement saying that he did not want the job. Similar sentiments came from the other favourite, Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow.

As the deadlock drags on, shelves are emptying as Russians snap up survival food like flour, oil, butter, canned fish and sugar. There are shortages of petrol and imported goods.

Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania, yesterday declared "a state of emergency" and announced that it would take responsibility for political and economic issues, although it toned this down after Moscow protested that it was illegal.

As Russia unravels, tragedy is interrupted by the bizarre.Overworked prosecutors inMoscow have been asking questions about the fate of a life-sized cake of Lenin, which was displayed at an art gallery, and eventually eaten by guests.

And spare a thought for the British - 139 British companies yesterday opened a trade fair in St Petersburg. "There is a market for everything, whether there is a crisis or not," said Dave Chapman, from the Gerome Group, a Derby-based fabrics company. Although he had only one potential Russian customer, he said that he was "still optimistic".

Not so, Russian onlookers.Marina Grigoryeva, a 46-year-old paediatrician, said: "Do these people really think it is appropriate selling computers when all some people can afford with their monthly salaries is a pack of cigarettes?" Three weeks ago her monthly salary was worthpounds 50; now it is worth only pounds 11.

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