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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Regions Pose New Threat to Moscow

With the leaders of the lands that make up the Russian Federation moving closer toward open revolt against the central government, President Boris Yeltsin and his chief antagonist, parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, are facing a dilemma of large proportions this week.

Either they put aside their deep differences and work to forge a position that can bring unity to this divided country, or they risk watching Russia fall apart.

Two meetings are scheduled this week between the president and the parliament speaker, who last Thursday held a first round of crisis talks with no discernable result. That meeting was also attended by Valery Zorkin, the Constitutional Court chairman, but he will not be present when Yeltsin and Khasbulatov hold face-to-face talks on Tuesday and meet again Thursday with a reconciliation commission.

The aim of the talks is either to work out a power-sharing arrangement that would obviate the need for the April 11 constitutional referendum, or to agree on a formula for the nationwide vote. Zorkin, who was instrumental in reconciling the president and speaker at the stormy December session of the Congress of People's Deputies, has decided to pull out of the talks in order to remain "impartial", according to a presidential spokesman.

With the economic crisis gripping Russia showing no sign of abating, and progress stalled by the power struggle at the top, the need for a political compromise is becoming more urgent with each passing week.

Now, added to the economic crisis, is a growing sense that - just as the Soviet Union fell apart 14 months ago - the disintegration of the Russian Federation is becoming more likely. This raises the stakes of the Yeltsin-Khasbulatov encounters.

The divisions between Moscow and Russia's sprawling patchwork of autonomous regions and republics came to the fore most recently this weekend, when local executive leaders were summoned to a Kremlin meeting to discuss the constitutional crisis and referendum proposal.

Yeltsin still supports the referendum, and has said that unless he and Khasbulatov can come to an agreement, it will take place.

But officials from regional executive governments, which report directly to Yeltsin's government, and local legislatures, which report to parliament, have come out against the nationwide vote. By doing so, they are announcing their intention to strike out on their own.

At the Kremlin meeting Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin urged support for the government and its reforms, and promised increased financial assistance to the regions, whose needs he conceded had been ignored in 1992.

But despite his appeal, only three of 16 regional leaders who spoke Saturday were willing to back the referendum, according to Interfax.

Tatarstan, which has declared independence and written its own constitution, has backed out of the referendum. Local leaders in Altai and Chelyabinsk have said they will ignore the president's decrees.

The referendum is problematic even in terms of logistics. Scheduled for April 11, questions must be submitted by March 11. Yet the two sides remain as far apart on the referendum as they do in their visions of Russia's future.

Khasbulatov wants to bolster the legislature's powers while reducing Yeltsin effectively to a figurehead; he remains committed to the concept of the Congress of People's Deputies as the supreme organ of state power, a provision in the country's Brezhnev-era constitution. Yeltsin, on the other hand, seeks a strong executive presidency with a two-chamber legislature, similar to the American system.