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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Outburst At Just the Wrong Time

Normally, an outburst by Ruslan Khasbulatov directed at Boris Yeltsin would merit no more attention than any of the previous barrages between the country's leaders.

Harsh exchanges between the parliament speaker and the president have become such a common sight on Russia's political landscape that ordinary people have almost stopped paying attention.

The two are currently at odds over Yeltsin's wish to hold a referendum on April 11 on a new constitution that would guarantee his powers, and over Khasbulatov's wish for early elections with the hope of getting rid of the president.

That Russia's two highest officials cannot get along is not in itself alarming. Disagreement is healthy in a democracy.

Certainly, a little political infighting is preferable to the illusion of unity that the former leaders of the Soviet Union projected at all official government events.

So when Khasbulatov on Friday said that Yeltsin had "failed to cope with his duties" and that the parliament, not Yeltsin, should be charged with solving the country's problems, many Russians merely shrugged.

When Yeltsin's spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov shot back on the television news that the speaker's words were "tactless" and "arrogant" and showed a "dangerous inclination toward mean political intrigues", many Russians switched channels.

And when Konstantin Zlobin, Khasbulatov's spokesman, responded that "these words actually characterize the current style of work and the statements of the president's associates", most viewers were already watching Mexican soap operas.

The problem is that Khasbulatov chose to make this particular outburst in a statement to Sweden's prime minister, Carl Bildt, who was in town on an official state visit. By choosing such a high-profile forum to accuse the president of incompetence and promote his parliament as Russian democracy's "only stabilizing force", Khasbulatov has raised the stakes significantly.

The world sees Yeltsin as a reform-minded leader who won his mandate in an open election. No one is making this claim about the Russian parliament, which was elected in 1990 under rules favorable to Communist Party members, and has consistently blocked Yeltsin's reforms.

It is discouraging that Khasbulatov chose to lash out at Yeltsin just as members of the president's cabinet were meeting with parliament representatives at a round table on how the two sides can work together to lead Russia out of its crisis.

The speaker could put his rhetorical skills to better use right now by helping to solve that problem.