Deputies Hedge Bets On Vote to Impeach

Impeachment proceedings against President Boris Yeltsin ran into confusion Wednesday as the lower house of parliament set new dates for a hearing while failing to cancel Thursday's planned ballot.

The Communist-dominated State Duma lost in three votes to postpone Thursday's scheduled impeachment debate while approving May 12-15 as an alternative.

Yeltsin, who has been charged with five counts ranging from "genocide" against the Russian people to mishandling the Chechnya war, has urged deputies to either start their impeachment debate now or drop it for good.

"The administration of the president is calm in the face of this, the president has given his position ... for the stability of society he wants this over as soon as possible," Oleg Sysuyev, deputy chief of the Kremlin administration, said at a news conference Wednesday

"Everyone has known for a long time that the constitutional process of impeachment and the accusations contained in it cannot have any kind of results ... not one of the accusations will get [the necessary] 300 votes."

A complicated, multi-stage impeachment process could begin only if 300 deputies vote for any of the charges, which include illegally dissolving the Soviet Union, using force to quell a parliamentary rebellion in 1993 and ruining the armed forces.

A charge of starting the ill-fated 1994-96 war in the breakaway region of Chechnya, where tens of thousands of people died, is the only one with some chance of passing under the current balance of Duma forces, political analysts have said.

Sysuyev said it was clear only leftist deputies voted for the postponement, hoping to use the debate as an election tool rather than heeding calls to stop proceedings while Russia spearheads opposition to NATO strikes in Yugoslavia.

A parliamentary election is due later this year, while a presidential poll is due in mid-2000.

"We consider the impeachment procedure as a realization of the leftist opposition's dirty politics," Sysuyev said.

Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov told reporters another vote would be held to clarify that Thursday's debate, which remained on the schedule after an earlier poll fell 20 votes short of the necessary majority, would not now take place.

Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's mayor and a presidential hopeful, slammed the whole process, calling one of its chief authors, senior Communist parliamentarian Viktor Ilyukhin, "the red prosecutor."

"Impeachment today is a means for the Communists in the Duma to bring down democratic power in the country," Luzhkov told a meeting of British businessmen. "This is a major and unworthy political game, a game with very dangerous goals."

If any one of the charges wins two-thirds backing, it would have to go to the Constitutional and Supreme Courts and on to the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, for a final vote. Analysts say the motion is unlikely to ever get that far.