Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov said Sunday that he and President Boris N. Yeltsin have agreed to end Russia’s political crisis by holding early general elections Nov. 21.
Khasbulatov made the surprise announcement to the Congress of People’s Deputies after all-night talks with Yeltsin, Russia’s chief judge and its prime minister.
He said Yeltsin had dropped his insistence on an April 25 popular vote of confidence in the president and the Parliament and had agreed to simultaneous elections of both branches.
The agreement is subject to approval by 1,033-member Congress.
On Saturday, an exhausted and puffy-faced Yeltsin had called for a week of talks with Khasbulatov and the others to settle the bitter power struggle, which has paralyzed the government.
In the fall, a two-house legislature would be elected along with the president and vice president and the larger Congress would be eliminated. The new legislature, the Supreme Soviet, would convene next February and write a new constitution, replacing the current one, which was drafted in 1977 under Communist rule.
Yeltsin is Russia’s first democratically elected president. His five-year term ends in 1996 and the Congress members’ five-year terms end in 1995.
The accord promised an end to two years of feuding between the president and Parliament over who has supremacy in post-Communist Russia.
It came a week after Yeltsin tried to end the impasse by declaring “special powers” to bypass Congress and rule by decree.
That declaration March 20, aimed at forcing the referendum on a reluctant Congress, plunged the country into political turmoil that alarmed many in Russia and the West with speculation that the armed forces might take sides and produce bloodshed.
The Constitutional Court ruled the declaration unconstitutional and Khasbulatov called for removing Yeltsin from office. Then, after five days of increasing tension, Yeltsin issued a decree Wednesday that made no mention of “special powers” and recognized the authority of the Congress and the court. On the eve of Friday’s opening Congress session, Khasbulatov backed away from his impeachment threat.
Behind the week’s dramatic events is a struggle over Russia’s transition from seven decades of Communist rule to a market economy. Yeltsin wants a strong presidency to promote rapid but painful economic change, while Communists, nationalists and industrial managers opposed to him want a more gradual process under parliamentary supervision.
Yeltsin’s appeal on Saturday before the Congress, made in halting speech that raised eyebrows in the Grand Kremlin Palace, came after the deputies rejected a bid to impeach the president and gave initial approval to the April referendum to settle the conflict between him and them.
But instead of moving to resolve sharp differences between its leaders and Yeltsin over what to ask voters, the Congress began debating a new resolution to weaken the presidency and urge Yeltsin’s resignation.
At that point, the president made a surprise appearance in the hall and urged Parliament to endorse urgent negotiations among the four leaders to “work out measures leading to a conciliation of all branches of power.”
“Shall we leave this hall in the atmosphere of discord?” Yeltsin asked in an impromptu speech interrupted by awkward pauses and jeering lawmakers. “The people will not understand. We must come out and say that there is trust between us, that there is agreement between us, and tell Russians to calm down.”
The president’s foes ventured that he was ill or drunk. Many of his supporters said the appearance, which headed off a vote on the anti-Yeltsin resolution, may have weakened his cause more than it helped. Both sides wondered whether the 62-year-old Russian leader is in shape to outmaneuver his critics and leave for a scheduled April 3-4 summit with President Clinton in Vancouver, Canada.
Yeltsin moved quickly to dispel the speculation, striding past deputies out of the Kremlin to shake hands with well-wishers on Tverskaya Street. But he told people he had not slept in three nights because of the political crisis and the death last Sunday of his 84-year-old mother.
“Look at me,” he told reporters. “I am not drunk.” At another point he said, “These days have been really hard.”
The personal drama capped a day of arcane parliamentary maneuvering that achieved little toward the compromise predicted by both sides Friday after it became clear that the Congress lacked the two-thirds majority to unseat Yeltsin outright.
A move to discuss impeachment Saturday won just 475 votes of the 517 needed to put it on the agenda.
Lawmakers adjourned without debating Yeltsin’s appeal for talks among him, Khasbulatov, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery D. Zorkin and Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin. But the four men held all-night talks anyway, joined by their aides and the leaders of Russia’s republics.
“The current crisis has gone far beyond the center and penetrated the provinces,” Prime Minister Chernomyrdin told the deputies Saturday. “It is splitting Russia and carving up the economy. I tell you, we are on the verge of a national catastrophe.”
Behind the scenes, Chernomyrdin held talks with centrist political forces holding the balance of power in Congress, hoping to bring them into a reshuffled Cabinet from which Yeltsin last week removed three ministers.
But the hope for compromise that prevailed Friday was dimmed early in Saturday’s session when hard-line deputies offered two sweeping resolutions against presidential power.
One, which did not come to a vote, would move control of state-owned television and radio networks from the president’s office to the Parliament and abolish Yeltsin’s propaganda agency.
The other resolution would transfer “all organs and establishments of state rule” from the presidency to the prime minister’s office, abolish the offices of presidential representatives in Russia’s far-flung regions and set up a new “government of national reconciliation” under the prime minister.
It urged Yeltsin and Khasbulatov to recognize their “responsibility for the political crisis” and resign voluntarily.
A preliminary vote on the second resolution gathered just 317 votes, and the issue appeared to die.
At that point, Communist deputies forced a vote on whether to consider Yeltsin’s impeachment, and that too failed.
“There is room for a compromise,” said Andrei Fyodorov, a spokesman for Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi.
But instead of reporting back a compromise plan, the drafting commission sent back a reworked version of the defeated resolution stripping Yeltsin of his powers.
As evening neared and Khasbulatov manipulated the weary deputies toward a second vote on the measure, Yeltsin left a meeting with a special envoy of Japan’s foreign minister and walked to the Congress for one of the most unusual performances of his colorful political career.
His swollen face made his eyes look squintier than normal, and his abundant silver hair was matted down on his low forehead. He spoke clearly, without notes, but made several misstatements. For example, he called the Constitutional Court the Constitutional Committee, but he quickly corrected himself.
In the highly charged atmosphere, the deputies studied every move, as did many Russians watching on live television. Rumors of drunkenness have followed Yeltsin’s evolution from Communist Party boss to democratic hero, and whispers filled the Kremlin hall as he spoke.
However, journalists who got close to Yeltsin later said they smelled no alcohol and saw a coherent, combative president.
He offered to name a new Cabinet without forming “a coalition” with his opponents, and he refused to fire his aides.
All three branches of government, he declared, have violated the constitution. “We are a young and developing democratic republic, and these errors will continue, although becoming less numerous with time,” he said. That drew a chorus of jeers.
In one halting passage, he shared blame with the Congress, saying: “Just like you, and maybe even to a higher degree, or no, it is not ‘maybe,’ it is surely so, I am responsible for this situation. But you were also making your decisions.”
“This was the speech of a weary man,” said Oleg Rumyantsev, a constitutional specialist, who said he thought the president was on medication. “He’s on the edge of his ouster, his mother has died, he’s alone ruling a big country. He’s really alone. His apparatus is working for their own interests, their own power struggles. Yeltsin is a tragically lonely person.”