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Boris Yeltsin Likely to Win Reversal of No-Confidence

By Richard Boudreaux
Los Angeles Times

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin appeared certain of reversing a no-confidence vote by Parliament over his government's conduct of the war in Chechnya after pledging Tuesday to give lawmakers a bigger role in reforming the armed forces.

He also sent Russian negotiators back to the tiny Chechen republic with broader authority to negotiate a political settlement of the 6-month-old war with separatist guerrillas.

After a Kremlin meeting with leaders of 11 party blocs in the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, Yeltsin said they had demanded a "high price" for active support of the government in Saturday's second, decisive vote - the ouster of his unpopular defense and interior ministers.

Indicating his unwillingness to pay, the president promised no Cabinet changes before July 22, the last day of Parliament's summer session, and said no decision would be made before his Security Council meets Thursday. Even so, Yeltsin's daylong lobbying blitz and sudden promises of collaboration left most lawmakers predicting a face-saving end to Russia's worst government crisis in nearly two years.

Duma Chairman Ivan P. Rybkin said most party leaders were willing to let Saturday's no-confidence motion fizzle by abstaining or not showing up. He said the first censure vote last Wednesday had served its purpose.

"The mood of most parties is this: Having demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the government's work, there is no need to break off the cooperation between the two branches of power," he said after the Kremlin meeting.

The Interfax news agency estimated that no more than 140 of the Duma's 450 members will vote again against the government.

"The crisis will be overcome," said Mikhail Lapshin, leader of the large Agrarian Party bloc, who were among the 241 deputies voting no-confidence last week.

Under Russia's constitution, which provides for a strong presidency, a second no-confidence vote would oblige Yeltsin to fire Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and his Cabinet or dissolve the Duma.

Yeltsin has already stated his choice: The Duma would go, and he would rule by decree until early parliamentary elections. That threat might itself be enough to reverse the Duma's vote.

Yeltsin was taking no chances. He held back-to-back meetings Tuesday with Rybkin and Chernomyrdin, the 11 party bloc leaders, heads of Russian republics and his negotiators in Chechnya.

Facing a rebellious Parliament in the autumn of 1993, Yeltsin dissolved it by military force.

The legislative body elected in December that year is weaker but still unruly and resistant to reform. Yeltsin often bypasses its laws with executive orders.

But the theme at the Kremlin Tuesday was partnership.

Acting like any Western leader with a troublesome group of lawmakers, Yeltsin set up a "conciliatory commission" to meet regularly and iron out his disputes with the legislators.

He also suggested that a government-parliamentary panel oversee military reform and report directly to him.

Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev and Interior Minister Viktor F. Yerin have been criticized in Parliament for their ill-prepared invasion of Chechnya last December and brutal conduct in a war that has left about 20,000 dead, mostly civilians.

Yerin is also under fire because his police failed to stop a Chechen guerrilla raid on the Russian city of Budennovsk two weeks ago and then staged two abortive attacks on the city hospital where the guerrillas were holding more than 1,000 hostages. At least 121 civilians died in the five-day siege.

A poll released Tuesday by the National Public Opinion Studies Center showed that 56 percent of Russian city dwellers opposed the storming of the hospital, in which hostages and guerrillas died.

The survey of 1,595 people also said 58 percent approved of Chernomyrdin's handling of the siege, which resulted in freedom of the remaining hostages in return for the guerrillas' safe conduct back to Chechnya. Just 17 percent supported Yeltsin, who left Russia during the crisis and said later that he and Yerin had authorized the storming.