1993

Selection_3021993 was the year in which the unreformed machinery of state fought long and hard for survival. It eventually surrendered but not without shells being fired directly into the White House in October.

On one side of Russia’s political landscape were westernising, democrats — President Yeltsin, Yegor Gaidar, Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, who headed the privatisation programmes, the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and others. On the other side were powerful groups around Vice- President Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov, who was Speaker and Chairman of the Congress of People’s Deputies.

In March, a four-day 8th Extraordinary Congress of People’s Deputies was organised. The number one goal was to cancel the scheduled April referendum, which would give Yeltsin a chance to hold parliamentary elections, move towards the establishment of a presidential republic and ask the population whether they favoured private ownership of land.

On its third day, Yeltsin was stripped of the emergency powers that the fifth Congress had granted him in November 1991. To all intents and purposes, Yeltsin`s ability to operate without the approval of Parliament, was now severely limited, which would have been fine in a mature democracy but not much use in Russia in 1993. On March 13, the April referendum was cancelled by a vote of 422-286. On the same day the Congress moved to assert control over the media and requested the Supreme Soviet to evaluate the work of Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais.

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Eventually realizing that a Russia with Yeltsin would be considerably better for their interests than what the opposition had to offer, Western countries, thanks to the newly-elected Bill Clinton, now came charging forward with an aid programme of billions of dollars. Even the IMF changed its tune but this was all rather late.

On March 20th Yeltsin announced on national television that he had signed a decree introducing “special rule,” a term that was carefully left undefined but meant that parliament would no longer be able to obstruct his work. The Constitutional Court then declared Yeltsin’s decree had violated the constitution. Nevertheless, the April 25 referendum was reinstated, during which 58% of Russians showed their support for Yeltsin.

On September 18th, Yeltsin took the kid gloves off and reappointed Yegor Gaidar as First deputy Prime Minister. Three days later, Yeltsin announced that he had signed presidential decree No. 1400, whereby he dissolved both houses of parliament and fixed new parliamentary elections for December 12. Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were savvy to Yelstin’s plan and had already encamped themselves inside the White house along with hundreds of Supreme Soviet deputies. Vice President Rutskoi was promptly appointed Acting President of Russia and an emergency 10th Congress of People’s Deputies was convened. The Constitutional Court ruled Yeltsin’s decree unconstitutional, thereby creating grounds for removing him from the Presidency. Acting President Rutskoi appointed his own “ministers”. Yeltsin ordered his Defense Minister Grachev, hero of the August 1991 coup, to lay siege to the same building that a little over two years ago he had heroically defended.

Following an unsuccessful attempt by parliament to take over the communications centre of the CIS on Leningradsky Prospect, the White House was cordoned off by police and OMON. As the impasse continued, Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin retracted his earlier assertion that Yeltsin should be impeached and began to press for the adoption of a so-called ‘zero-zero’ option which would set the clock back to the state of the game before Yeltsin issued decree 1400. Meanwhile, the parliamentary Guard had access to 1,600 automatic weapons, over 2,000 pistols, 20 machine guns and several grenade launchers. More weapons were being smuggled into the White House daily through a labyrinth of underground tunnels underneath the building. General Rutskoi had three battalions of Moscow reservists, about 100 Spetznaz soldiers and various forces from groups as different as the Cossacks to the neo-Nazi storm troopers of Aleksander Barkashov at his disposal.

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On the afternoon of October 3rd, a combined crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 pro-Supreme Soviet demonstrators broke through a heavy police cordon and swarmed up to the White House. At 5pm a detachment set off for TV centre at Ostankino. For some convenient reason, vehicles had been left by fleeing police with their keys in them, just what a heavily armed mob needed to travel north through Moscow to the Ostankino TV centre, where a detachment of the Vityaz unit, a semisecret section of the Dzerzhinsky Division whose ‘normal job was to suppress prison mutinies or race riots in Central Asia, without too many questions being asked’ was waiting for them. The result was a killing field where 60 rebels, some passers- by and journalists lost their lives.

Dvoevlastie or dual power ended abruptly. Valery Zorkin, chairman of the Constitutional Court, resigned as chief justice several days after the taking of the White House. Yeltsin moved quickly against the regions. The existing soviets of all levels were disbanded, and the status of the autonomous republics were downgraded in the new constitution.

In December 58% of the population endorsed the new constitution, Yeltsin once again had virtually unrestricted authority to appoint his prime minister, and rule by decree.

On the afternoon of October 3rd, a combined crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 pro-Supreme Soviet demonstrators broke through a heavy police cordon and swarmed up to the White House. Rutskoi, convinced that victory was close at hand, came out on a balcony and shouted: “We have won! Thank you, dear Muscovites!” He instructed the crowd to form up detachments and seize the Mayor’s office, then move on to Ostankino television broadcasting centre. An intoxicated mob burst into the nearby mayor’s office and the adjacent MIR hotel which was at that time the temporary police headquarters. At 5pm a detachment set off for Ostankino. It seemed briefly that a Bolshevik-style revolution was unfolding, with the fate of a nuclear-armed giant with 150 million people being decided by a few thousand people.

Nobody stopped to ask why the demonstrators had been let through to the White House, and why vehicles had been left by fleeing police with their keys in them. Just what a heavily armed mob needed to travel north through Moscow to the Ostankino TV centre, where a detachment of the Vityaz unit, a semisecret section of the Dzerzhinsky Division whose ‘normal job was to suppress prison mutinies or race riots in Central Asia, without too many questions being asked’ (An Empire’s new Clothes, Bruce Clark) was waiting for them. The result was a killing field where 60 rebels, passers- by and journalists lost their lives. If the rebels had set off for the unguarded Kremlin, that would have been a different matter, but they didn’t, and one can only presume that Yeltsin had all the sophistication of Russian intelligence services at his disposal to inform him of this. The rebels did, however, take control of several other key buildings in Moscow, including the ITAR-TASS building.

All of this enabled Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin to persuade the military to abandon its stance of neutrality and agree to a phased storming of the White House the following morning. We will never know at what price the military’s agreement came. A gaping hole was blasted in the White House before Rutskoi, Khasbulatov and their supporters would concede.

Dvoevlastie or dual power ended abruptly. Valery Zorkin, chairman of the Constitutional Court, resigned as chief justice several days after the taking of the White House. Yeltsin moved quickly against the regions. The existing soviets of all levels were disbanded, and the status of the autonomous republics were downgraded in the new constitution.

It seemed as though Yeltsin had scored the ultimate victory. However the electorate was somewhat shocked by the methods that Yeltsin used to rout his opponents. Rumours circulated around Moscow that thousands and not hundreds of people had been killed inside the White House as result of the shelling and consequent storming of the building. Yeltsin showed an over keen attitude to manipulate the press by making sure that Gaidar’s Russia’s choice was given more air time than any other party, and any criticism to the Draft Constitution was banned on air.

The four democratic parties that competed in the December elections for the State Duma, the new lower house, fared far worse than was expected, whilst Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party took 66 seats, the bornagain Communist Party took 62, and the Agrarians took 49. Yegor Gaidar’s “Russia’s Choice” took 103 seats, and could easily be outvoted.

Many believed the results were a result of Yeltsin’s heavy handedness, but the dissatisfaction went deeper than that. Although Gaidar’s reforms were beginning to work, many thought they had failed. But things were only getting better in Moscow. Whole sections of the economy such as agriculture were as yet unreformed and dependant on dwindling state subsidies. Ministers held back from implementing the long awaited land reform law and there were persistent constraints upon entrepreneurial activity. The rule of law was very arbitrary and businessmen did not have a predictable environment to operate in. The country appeared to be rudderless and drifting.

As Russians increasingly rejected their Soviet identity, they sought to return to national roots. Euroasian politics that had been espoused by writers such as Solzhenitsyn, and before him by Lev Gumilyov became more appealing. A wide spectrum of opposition parties espoused policies that were at least partly Euroasian. Nobody was actually quite sure what Gumilyov’s ethnos really was but there was a general assumption that Orthodox Russia had more in common with the traditional authoritative values of Central Asia than the individualistic values of the humanist West. Coupled to all this was anger at the separatist sentiment in the non-Russian regions and a sinking feeling that Russia had ceased to be a great power. Furthermore, many Russians were concerned for their fellow co-ethnics in the “near abroad”.

Gaidar was not a very good communicator. His pudgy face had never endeared itself to most voters and his language was as incomprehensible as ever. Zhirinovsky appeared dynamic and could speak the language of the man and woman in the street. Zyuganov was an unprepossessing speaker, yet the communists offered somewhere to go if you felt dis-inherited by Russia’s casting off of its Soviet identity.

For Yeltsin, the December elections offered mixed results. Communists and neo-fascists would henceforth enjoy strong representation in the State Duma, but the upper chamber, the Federation Council, promised to be more tractable. After 58% of the population endorsed the new constitution, Yeltsin once again had virtually unrestricted authority to appoint his prime minister, to prorogue parliament and rule by decree.

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