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Yeltsin Has Confidence of Russian Parliament -- But Only Barely

By Carey Goldberg
Los Angeles Times


Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin defeated, but just barely, a proposal to hold a vote of no confidence in his government as a crucial session of Parliament opened Monday.

But he is still expected to face new barrages of wrath from lawmakers Tuesday when he reports on the foundering economy.

In a 447-412 vote, the Russian Congress of People's Deputies turned down a proposal to add to its nine-day agenda a vote of no confidence in the government.

But the nearly 1,000 deputies insisted that Yeltsin himself, rather than his economics chief, Yegor T. Gaidar, justify the government's agonizing economic reform program and subject himself to the political flogging sure to follow the report.

"They want to humiliate him," lawmaker Leonid Gurevich, a Yeltsin ally from Murmansk, said angrily during a break in the session. "It's pure political gamesmanship."

Yeltsin also faces a major parliamentary battle over the shape of the new Russian constitution. He has said he will fight for a powerful presidency to guide the country through these years of turmoil, but opponents are calling for a stronger Parliament.

"We can afford no unconstitutional methods," Ruslan Khasbulatov, the Parliament's chairman, said Monday. "We need dialogue rather than a monologue. We need compromise."

In contrast, Sergei M. Shakhrai, Yeltsin's top legal adviser, swore that by the Congress' end, Russia will have a clear hierarchy from the president on down.

"Dual power will cease at this Congress. Either a presidential republic will triumph, or chaos," Shakhrai said.

According to a survey of deputies released Monday, both Yeltsin's economic reform program and his push for more powers will run into strong resistance from the lawmakers.

A poll conducted by the Congress' sociological service found that 47.7 percent of the deputies thought that the reform program needed serious alterations, and 33.8 percent thought that the program would ruin the country and had to be immediately changed.

And 55.4 percent thought that greater powers should be given the Parliament, not the president.

In a surprise move, Russian Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi also addressed the Congress, calling on the government to use Russian soldiers to maintain the peace in Moldova, a republic in the southwestern region of the former Soviet Union that is caught up in ethnic warfare.

Rutskoi, a former military pilot, argued that, although Russia has announced that it will not intervene in conflicts outside its borders, it has an obligation to defend the many ethnic Russians caught in the cross-fire in the separatist splinter of Moldova known as the Dniester Republic.

"It's time to draw the line so that other countries know that they carry full responsibility for Russians, for citizens of Russia," he said. "Look at the United States, how they defend their citizens, while we, to date, haven't defended one citizen."

The 14th Army, former Soviet forces that Russia took under its jurisdiction last week, should be used as a buffer in Moldova, Rutskoi maintained.

He proposed that the Congress, as Russia's highest governmental body, adopt a resolution pledging that the 14th Army would halt the armed clashes and calling on the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose-knit successor to the old Soviet Union, to quickly form its own peacekeeping forces.

However, Yeltsin's adviser on ethnic policy, Galina Starovoitova, said that Rutskoi's proposal, which was handed over to a newly created commission Monday, could not work.

"Moldova is a sovereign independent state which was recognized by the international community," Starovoitova said, "and we cannot introduce troops or even keep troops in each territory without the agreement of the Parliament and the legal power in Moldova."