In a surprise, the designated spokesman for Russian Federation conservatives accused Boris N. Yeltsin on Saturday of coveting dictatorial powers, but he also delivered a virtual call for the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
“I am not a partisan of the language of ultimatums,” Vladimir B. Isakov told Russia’s Parliament. “But perhaps Mikhail Sergeyevich (Gorbachev) should really think about handing over the helm to somebody else.”
Isakov, a bespectacled jurist from the Urals and chairman of one of the chambers in the bicameral Russian Federation legislature, was given the floor at an emergency session of the federation’s Congress of People’s Deputies to deliver a right-wing rebuttal to a policy speech made Friday by Yeltsin, the federation’s radical leader.
Isakov lambasted Yeltsin--accusing him of “doing everything to achieve his main goal--absolutely unlimited presidential power.”
But significantly, he did not call for the resignation or ouster of Yeltsin as chairman of the Russian legislature--the reason Isakov and other top-ranking legislators had demanded the convoking of the 1,060-member Russian Congress in the first place. Isakov’s failure to do so was a tacit admission by conservatives that they do not have the votes to depose Yeltsin.
Instead, in what some legislators said was evidently a carefully thought out gambit executed with the approval of the arch-conservative Russian Communist Party--and that in any event shows how eroded Gorbachev’s support now is on the right--Isakov hinted that for Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union since 1985, the time was now up.
“There is some justification” for blaming the central government headed by Gorbachev for the Soviet Union’s widening troubles, Isakov said.
Yeltsin’s left-wing supporters, who met Isakov’s attacks on him with whistles and catcalls, applauded with surprised delight at his remarks about Gorbachev. On Thursday, more than 100,000 Yeltsin supporters jammed Moscow’s streets to call for Gorbachev’s resignation and the election of their champion as Russia’s president.
Some allies of Yeltsin, however, frowned at Isakov’s statement.
“In my point of view, this is an attack from the right (on Gorbachev),” Andrei Fyodorov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview. “Knowing the structures involved, the main ideas of the report will have been discussed (with the Russian Communist Party); this was not . . . Isakov’s personal point of view.”
Fyodorov said the comments would be damagingly divisive precisely at a time when Yeltsin, who has done much himself to polarize Soviet politics into opposing camps of reformers and non-reformers, has gone on record as advocating a “coalition government of popular trust.”
Answering questions from the floor, Isakov told the Congress he was speaking “in the name of those members of the Supreme Soviet (Russia’s legislature)” who signed the Feb. 21 declaration that provided the impetus for holding the Congress session.
The fact that Isakov was chosen as the spokesman of those six Supreme Soviet leaders may have been intended to give Russian Communists plausible deniability, since Isakov resigned from the party last August. Whether he was speaking with the party’s blessing or not, several members of the “Communists of Russia” faction, interviewed after the 20-minute speech, said they agreed wholeheartedly that Gorbachev--who is also general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party--must go.
Isakov, who like Yeltsin is from the industrial city of Sverdlovsk, admits to having once idolized Yeltsin and shared his populist, egalitarian ideas. But he warned the Congress that Yeltsin’s latest plans for an institutional overhaul in Russia would lead to tyranny.
“Under the cover of sacred words and amid the thunder of drums, a new dictatorship is approaching,” Isakov said.
Yeltsin’s proposal for a new, more powerful Russian executive presidency was approved by nearly 70% of the voters in a referendum held throughout the Russian Federation earlier this month. However, Communists, openly leery of creating a post tailor-made for Yeltsin, succeeded Friday in keeping the issue off the parliamentary agenda.
Isakov said the law that permitted the referendum was fatally flawed.
Yeltsin, however, believes the issue is far from dead, since neither his supporters nor his enemies have a firm majority of the Congress’ 1,060 members. “The decision taken by the Congress is not its last word,” he told journalists crowded around him in the Parliament’s lobby Saturday afternoon. “We will come back to this.”
Commenting on Isakov’s criticism of his purported hunger for power, Yeltsin told the reporters, “It’s about what I expected.” But Yeltsin, who has demanded Gorbachev’s resignation and repeatedly assailed the Communist Party apparatus as the saboteur of genuine charge, avoided being drawn into confrontion with his ideological foes.
“The Communists include progressive people,” Yeltsin said, recalling the proposals he had unveiled Friday for a coalition government and a “round table” to bring all political factions together. “The democrats also have different opinions. We shouldn’t divide the Congress into this group and that.”
In other developments during the third day of the Congress, which is taking place in the opulent Grand Kremlin Palace, striking miners in the Kuzbass coal basin of Siberia warned in a telegram read on the floor that if legislators refuse to amend the constitution to create the presidency for Yeltsin, their paralyzing walkout will continue.
Vremya, the state-run television news program, reported the strike was widening in the country’s most important coal-producing area, the eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. Since the strike began there in early March, coal production has dropped by more than 3.5 million tons.