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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Presidential Plan Evolves

As unexpected a shock as Boris Yeltsin's dissolution of parliament and effective suspension of the constitution last week may have been, the plan he set in motion has been in preparation for as long as a year.


Already last December it had become clear that Yeltsin would not be able to bully the Soviet-style Congress of People's Deputies into line and would have to find a way to get rid of them.


The proof came during the seventh session of the Congress, when Yeltsin stormed out asking all who supported him to follow. Only 100 of the 1, 000-odd member legislature came. When Yeltsin tried to deal, offering control of key ministries in return for keeping Yegor Gaidar as prime minister. Congress took the ministries and Gaidar too.


With the constitution under their control and the special powers they had conferred upon Yeltsin to rule the country after the August coup, the deputies saw little need to cut deals.


This left plan B, the favorite solution of Yeltsin's so-called "radical" advisers including Mikhail Poltoranin, then the press and information minister; Gennady Burbulis who had been Yeltsin's right hand and counsellor; and Sergei Yushenkov a leader of the small coalition of democrats inside the legislature.


According to this strategy, Yeltsin would dissolve the Congress, call fresh elections and let a new, more sympathetic legislature draft a constitution enshrining strong presidential powers.


There were, however, several obstacles preventing Yeltsin from implementing such a radical plan.


The first was that he had to have all of the power ministries - defense, security and interior - firmly behind him.


Without the support of the army, the police and the former KGB, Yeltsin could not hope to take by force the powers that the Congress were refusing to give him legally.


The second was that Yeltsin needed to convince Western leaders there was no way out but to take such drastic measures, or else lose their support.


Still more importantly, Yeltsin needed tight control over the airwaves, to ensure that his opposition was not able to appeal to the country - the people and the regional governments - to take their side against the president.


The need for all of these elements to fall in place became clear March 20, when Yeltsin appeared on television to declare "special rule", according to which parliament legislation was no longer valid if it conflicted with his own decrees.


The power ministries vacillated; his Security Council Secretary Yury Skokov refused to back the move; speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin all got on television to condemn it; and worst of all, key regional leaders said they would not obey the president's order. Yeltsin backed off, rewriting the decree so softly that it became virtually meaningless.


Since then Yeltsin has been busy plugging the holes in his strategy, even while pressing ahead with other, less risky, ways of outflanking the Congress and getting the constitution he wants.


First he sacked Skokov and stripped Rutskoi of his duties and privileges, at the same time stepping up a campaign to lure legislators into his camp with promises of jobs.


Next came the April referendum in which Yeltsin got a clear, though not overwhelming, mandate to pursue his polices. It was a key success in his bid to win over support for his cause both at home and abroad, and one that Poltoranin on Wednesday described as an order from the people to Yeltsin to end the political confrontation.


The parliament then unwittingly played into Yeltsin's hands, passing a flurry of laws so clearly opposed to reform that Western diplomats began for the first time to whisper that they would not mind seeing the legislature dissolved.


Later in the summer Yeltsin sacked Security Minister Viktor Barannikov, ostensibly on corruption charges but in fact because he had shown divided loyalties. The stage was set.


When Yeltsin appeared on television 10 days ago, he was better prepared and demonstrated his confidence by sipping from a tea cup before announcing what amounts to presidential rule. The pieces had fallen into place, with the security ministers supporting him and the electronic media bowing to censorship.


But the success or failure of the plan is still in the balance. If Yeltsin is to keep his supporters he has to show soon that his authoritarian solution to Russia's political stalemate will take the country further down the path of democracy.