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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Amnesty Panic Reveals Chaos in Yeltsin's Ranks

President Boris Yeltsin engaged in a flurry of eleventh-hour attempts to halt the release of his political enemies last weekend, but his efforts ended in humiliation for the president and disarray among his staff.


By Saturday evening, despite all of Yeltsin's immense constitutional powers, he had been foiled: His bitterest enemies had walked free and Russia's Public Prosecutor had resigned in disgust.


A day of blunders was capped when presidential adviser Georgy Satarov started talks with parliamentary speaker Ivan Rybkin on Saturday afternoon to try to slow the releases, more than an hour after Ruslan Khasbulatov had walked out of Lefortovo prison.


Neither man learned what had happened until their meeting ended.


The release order was signed by Vladimir Kravtsev, deputy public prosecutor, he told Itar-Tass.


Kravtsev's boss, Alexei Kazannik, meanwhile, had resigned, declaring that he saw no legal obstacles to the releases but that he personally opposed them.


While Kazannik agonized over the amnesty, officials from his office oiled the wheels which let it be implemented.


"The prosecutor's office hurried," Valery Gerasimov, an aide to Rybkin, said in an interview Monday.


Kravtsev told Itar-Tass that on Saturday morning officials from his office had asked all the Lefortovo prisoners whether they accepted the amnesty, clearing an obstacle to their release.


This was happening even as Kazannik sent a letter to the two amnesty drafters -- Viktor Ilyukhin and Vladimir Isakov -- asking for clarifications.


"We considered that the issue was not sufficiently complex for us to turn to the Duma," Ilyukhin said by telephone. "So we gave an official answer.


"We gave no directions, no orders to the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor took the completely correct decision."


After that, Kazannik said he could no longer resist the releases and resigned.


"My resignation is due to the fact that I was asked to break the law, and that is not within my power," he said in an address to his colleagues at the prosecutor's office, Interfax reported.


Kazannik's punctiliousness was a vital element in the release. Kazannik said Yeltsin told to disregard the amnesty but that he told Yeltsin that would be unconstitutional. Yeltsin then told him to "look for a way out," he said.


On Friday evening Kazannik said he was invited to a meeting in the Kremlin, whose main topic was not "how to stabilize the situation after the amnesty" but "how not to permit it."


Yeltsin argued that last Wednesday's resolution by the Duma was more a pardon than amnesty, and fell within the prerogative of the president. Kazannik said he could not accept this argument.


Kazannik's resignation fully revealed disarray in the president's staff.


Vyacheslav Kostikov, Yeltsin's press secretary, called Kazannik's resignation "the reaction of an extremely noble and decent man, placed in a difficult legal situation," Interfax reported.


By the time these criticisms and recriminations had been voiced, it was all too late.