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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President, Speaker Fail to Find Accord

President Boris Yeltsin's battle for control of the country with his rivals in the legislature intensified over the weekend when conciliation talks stalled after a bitter exchange between the two sides.


The first meeting of a joint commission set up to end the power struggle between Yeltsin and parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov ended Saturday without making progress, according to a top presidential aide. First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko, who heads the president's delegation, said that the two sides had "different and in some cases incompatible approaches", Interfax reported.


Yeltsin and Khasbulatov had agreed in a short meeting last week to hold the talks to work out solution to the country's consitutional crisis as an alternative to a potentially divisive referendum scheduled for April 11.


Resolving the conflict is crucial to the continuation of reform in Russia. The separation of powers is poorly spelled out in the current Soviet-era constitution, which has resulted in the formation of parallel government bodies with overlapping authority on all levels - one side loyal to the president, the other loyal to the legislature.


Yeltsin says that progress on reform has only been possible under his leadership, while Khasbulatov, critical of the first year of reforms, says the bulk of power should be in the hands of the legislature.


Both sides were supposed to bring their proposals for solving the dispute to Saturday's negotiations, but so far only Yeltsin has made an offer, calling for both the executive and legislative branches to stop interfering in each other's work until a constitutional assembly adopts a new national charter. Khasbulatov, on a visit to the central Siberian city of Novosibirsk over the weekend, rejected this offer, saying that there was no provision for a constitutional assembly in the present constitution and suggesting that Yeltsin's powers be trimmed.


"When one side is constantly looking not just for a struggle but for war and trying to get round the law, it is very hard to work", he told a meeting of scientists and scholars on Saturday.


Khasbulatov made his remarks following one of the bitterest exchanges between the two sides to date.


On Friday, after Khasbulatov said Yeltsin had too many powers, a presidential spokesman issued a harsh statement denouncing the speaker's remarks as "blatantly destructive and confrontational in character" and suggesting that the parliament remove him from his post.


This prompted an equally blunt rebuttal from Khasbulatov's spokesman, who said that the presidential spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, was destabilizing the peace talks.


Khasbulatov thought the talks were a "very serious matter" that required "careful and thoughtful" work, his spokesman said.


But at Saturday's meeting, Shumeiko told Interfax, Khasbulatov's delegation argued for two hours on procedural matters and then ended the meeting by announcing that the Supreme Soviet had not yet authorized the talks.


The Supreme Soviet, Russia's 248-member standing parliament is scheduled to debate on Tuesday or Wednesday whether to authorize sending a delegation to the talks, Shumeiko said.


Even if legislators approve continuing the negotiations, Shumeiko added, parliament will most likely reject any proposal the president might offer. Shumeiko said that the parliamentary team, which is led by Deputy Speaker Nikolai Ryabov, favored solving the power crisis by amending the existing constitution.


This is a position not likely to be accepted by the president's side; when legislators have amended the Constitution in the recent past, they have usually done so to limit the president's authority and the cabinet's freedom of maneuver.


Shumeiko said that if the Supreme Soviet voted against continuing the negotiations, Yeltsin would appeal to the Congress of People's Deputies for approval.


The Congress has been a stauncher opponent of the president that the Supreme Soviet.


Shumeiko said that if negotiations failed, the president would be forced to resolve the conflict by way of the referendum.


But only parliament and the Congress have the right to set referendums.