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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power Ministers Offer Yeltsin Resignation

Five of Russia's top officials, including the three so-called "power ministers," offered their resignations to President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday at a Security Council meeting called to assess the responsibility for the Budyonnovsk hostage crisis.

The resignation offers came just two days before a critical confidence vote that had threatened to bring the nationwide shock and dissatisfaction felt over the handling of the hostage affair to an explosive political climax.

But the resignation offers from the power ministers fitted neatly into a scenario for a compromise that has been worked out between Yeltsin and State Duma representatives over the past few days, evidence that neither side wants to force a constitutional crisis.

It is now up to Yeltsin to decide whether or not to accept the resignations. On Thursday he said only that he would consider the matter before July 10, meaning it was unlikely that the fates of the ministers would be known before Saturday's vote in the Duma.

State Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin told reporters after the 2 1/2-hour Security Council meeting that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, Federal Security Service chief Sergei Stepashin, Deputy Prime Minister for Nationalities Nikolai Yegorov and Stavropol governor Yevgeny Kuznetsov all had accepted some of the blame for the fiasco in Budyonnovsk, in which more than 120 people were killed.

"All of the speakers realized the measure of their guilt for what happened and offered the president their resignations," Interfax quoted Rybkin as saying. He added that Yeltsin would consider the resignation offers one by one before July 10.

"We must strictly determine those guilty of allowing the events in Budyonnovsk," Yeltsin told the council. "Moral, physical and political damage has been done to Russia."

Interfax reported, citing a Kremlin source, that Yeltsin was planning to address the nation on television Friday on the results of the Security Council meeting.

All the ministers but one admitted that they were to some extent responsible for the hostage crisis. Only Grachev attempted to cast his own department's performance in a good light, saying the incident occurred after the "military defeat" his troops had inflicted on the Chechens, forcing them to resort to terrorism and diversion.

At least one of the ministers seemed to consider his resignation as final. Stepashin told reporters as he left the council meeting, "I've been pensioned off." But Stepashin's chief spokesman, Alexander Mikhailov, quickly denied that his chief had been fired, saying that Stepashin's laconic remark had been "misinterpreted."

In the corridors of the Duma on Thursday, speculation was rife as to which ministers Yeltsin would actually fire. Grigory Yavlinsky, whose Yabloko faction made the dismissal of the power ministers a condition of support for the government in Saturday's confidence vote, called for a deferral of the ballot.

"What's important to us is not who offers to resign but whose resignation will be accepted," Interfax quoted Yavlinsky as saying.

However, a deferral is unlikely and most deputies interviewed Thursday saw the results of the vote as preordained in favor of the government. Yeltsin has in any case made it clear that if the Duma votes to force the government's dismissal, he will instead disband the Duma.

No one doubted that Saturday the Duma would hold a second vote of no-confidence -- where 226 votes against the government are needed to get the cabinet fired or the Duma disbanded -- rather than a vote of confidence, in which the government would need 226 active supporters to avert a showdown. The no-confidence vote is widely expected to fail, in which case the crisis would be over.

"It will almost certainly not pass," said Yevgeny Malkin, a member of the Democratic Party of Russia which initiated last week's no-confidence vote. "Our faction will be in the minority.

"But we entertain no illusions as to the current Duma's ability to topple the government," Malkin added. "Our minimum program was to show to voters those who foam at the mouth cursing the government and then quietly do a deal with it behind their backs. We can still do that."

Malkin was clearly referring to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party and the Agrarian Party, which, by their opportunist maneuvering, are going to make certain that the Duma does not succeed in voting no-confidence in the cabinet.

Despite the fact that Yabloko will try to put off the vote, many of its members are likely to vote against the government in the almost certain event that the matter gets to the ballot.

"The power ministers are not everything that we think is wrong with this government," said Vyacheslav Shostakovsky, a top Yabloko member. "But in any case, the Duma is not likely to vote no-confidence. There has been a lot of bargaining in the past few days, and the government has bargained for quite a few votes."

Yabloko, the Communist Party, the Democratic Party and a number of independents are still going to vote against the government on economic grounds rather than as a response to its poor handling of the Budyonnovsk hostage crisis. But, since the outcome of the vote is predictable, deputies' minds are on the issue of which officials Yeltsin will fire.

"Most likely Yerin, least likely Grachev," Malkin said.

"Yeltsin will never give up Grachev and I don't think he will fire Yerin -- they've drunk too much blood together," said Aivars Lezdinsh, an independent liberal deputy, referring to Grachev and Yerin's participation in Yeltsin's 1993 crackdown on the old parliament, which ended with more than 140 dead.

"But the Stavropol governor is clearly going, and Stepashin, as the weakest of the ministers, looks like he will follow," he added. "So will Yegorov -- he looked like a sacrificial lamb from the start."

Yeltsin, speaking at the Security Council, was careful not to drop even a hint of whom he considers the most likely candidates for retirement. Referring to the Budyonnovsk crisis, he only said that "Russians and the entire world have been shown that the special services are unable to handle complicated tasks."

Yegor Gaidar, leader of the Russia's Choice faction, which has supported the government throughout the crisis, welcomed the ministers' offers to resign.

"I hope," he said to Interfax, "the president accepts all the resignations."