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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power Struggle in Russia's Regions Heats Up

President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday declared illegal an attempt by the Russian region of Mordovia to depose its elected president, moving to assert his authority before the April 25 referendum on confidence in his rule.

Yeltsin signed a decree saying that Mordovian President Vasily Guslyannikov and his government should remain in power until Russia's Constitutional Court ruled on a resolution by the tiny region's parliament to eliminate Guslyannikov's position.

The president sent Sergei Shakhrai, his deputy prime minister in charge of regional policy, to the Mordovian capital, Saransk, to deliver the decree, Interfax reported.

As Russia's outlying regions grow ever more disillusioned with Moscow, Mordovia is an example of where the referendum battle will be won or lost. A tiny region near the independently minded republic of Tatarstan, it sits halfway between Moscow and the Urals in Russia's heartland.

The Mordovian parliament's move, with the deadline for the referendum approaching, could have serious implications for the larger power struggle in Russia, where the conservative national legislature is battling Yeltsin for ultimate control of the country.

Throughout the country, regional parliaments, dominated by conservatives, are vying for control with their counterparts in the executive branch, who usually support Yeltsin and his democratic reforms.

The Mordovian parliament's attempt to eliminate the presidency is the boldest move a legislature in Russia has made against the executive branch.

Guslyannikov warned that if the executive branch lost this battle, Communists would regain power throughout Russia within a year, Interfax reported.

Yeltsin wants the April 25 vote to give him a mandate to claim supreme authority. But his opponents in the Congress of People's Deputies last week imposed a condition on the vote requiring him to win 50 percent of the total electorate - as opposed to half of those who voted - to be able to claim victory.

Russia's Constitutional Court on Thursday began reviewing an appeal from the president's supporters, who say the conditions violate the law on referendums. Specifically, they argue that a requirement set by the Congress that 50 percent of Russia's registered voters must turn out is illegal.

Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, declining to comment directly on the case, said Thursday that he did not know when the court would reach a decision.

Many observers believe it will be impossible for Yeltsin to gamer 50 percent of the vote because of voter apathy and the separatist mood in many of Russia's 21 autonomous regions. Under the rules set by the Congress, Yeltsin would need the support of half of the country's 106 million registered voters to win a vote of confidence, no matter how many or how few turn out to vote.

A top aide said Thursday that Yeltsin would resign if a majority of people who turn out for the referendum vote against him.

"I know his character", First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko told a briefing. He added that he thought Yeltsin would win.

Yeltsin on Thursday set up a government commission, led by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, to prepare for the referendum in an apparent effort to block potential moves by the Congress to take over organization of the poll.