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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Speaker Punishes Deputy for Breaking Ranks

Nikolai Ryabov, the deputy speaker of parliament whose support for President Boris Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly has split the parliament, is getting the Rutskoi treatment.

As Yeltsin has done with rebellious Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, so parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov has punished Ryabov for breaking ranks. A top legislator said Monday that Ryabov has been relieved of his duties and cut off from access to important documents.

"From the moment that Ryabov announced his position, Khasbulatov naturally made sure that he received no documents or assignments", said Mikhail Mityukov, the head of parliament's legislative committee.

Khasbulatov faces a similar dilemma to Yeltsin, however, in that he does not have the right to sack his deputy. To do that he will have to get the approval of the Congress of People's Deputies, the 1, 033-member top legislature from which the Supreme Soviet, the smaller working parliament, is drawn. In the meanwhile, he must make do with stripping Ryabov of influence.

Ryabov leads a group of powerful committee chairmen in the Supreme Soviet presidium in favor of compromising with the president on constitutional reform, a stand vehemently opposed by Khasbulatov.

Some members of the presidium, which sets the legislature's agenda, met behind closed doors to air out their differences with Khasbulatov on Monday and to discuss the legislature's leadership crisis, which intensified when Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly opened Saturday.

Khasbulatov stormed out of the assembly after he was prevented from making a speech after Yeltsin called Russia's current legislature "incompatible with a democratic system" in his opening address.

Khasbulatov tried to speak, but many of the 700 delegates clapped and whistled to drown him out while Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, seated behind the podium, smiled and encouraged the crowd.

Khasbulatov later called the assembly an effort to return Russia "to the darkest times and a complete dictatorship". A top presidential aide on Monday said he doubted that the speaker would be back. Ryabov, however, was at the assembly on Monday.

The presidium split when Ryabov, Mityukov and seven other powerful committee chairmen came out last week in favor of taking part in Yeltsin's assembly in an effort to make it consider combining the president's draft and a rival draft produced by parliament.

Khasbulatov at first vehemently resisted the call for compromise and repeatedly denounced the assembly. Only on Friday did he agree to attend.

Mityukov said this was part of the reason for Saturday's chaotic events, in which Khasbulatov shouted at the crowd before walking out and Yury Slobodkin, a communist legislator, was forcibly removed by guards after trying to take the floor.

"The blame for Saturday should be equally placed on the organizers of the assembly and the Supreme Soviet, which took a month to decide whether to participate and decided that problem at the curtain on Friday when the rules for the meeting had already been decided", Mityukov said. "Naturally, we took no part in the preparations".

Mityukov added that the tumultuous beginning to the constitutional assembly had not aided his allie's cause of trying to convince more reticent members of parliament that compromise was possible with the president.

"We did not gain any allies in parliament after Saturday's events", Mityukov said.

Perhaps with this in mind, Ryabov on Monday attempted to toe a centrist line, chiding Yeltsin for making "unduly confrontational statements" in his opening address to the Constitutional Assembly. At Monday's meeting with Khasbulatov, Ryabov spoke in favor of adopting a law that clearly defines the activities and powers of parliament's presidium, its speaker, and deputy speakers according to Sergei Kovalyov, a legislator who attended the meeting.

Russia's existing constitution does not specifically define these functions. It does, however, give the speaker broad organizational functions and allows the presidium to issue decrees.