President Boris N. Yeltsin said Saturday that he would agree to early presidential elections to resolve Russia's seemingly hopeless political gridlock--but only if parliamentary elections were held six months earlier.
Yeltsin made the surprise offer after he was once again outmaneuvered by political foes in a bid to create what would amount to an alternative parliament.
However, it seems unlikely that the conservative Congress of People's Deputies will agree to hold new elections before its term expires in 1995.
The Congress of People's Deputies is scheduled to convene again Nov. 17. Lawmakers have made no secret of their intention to strip Yeltsin of most of his powers and make him a figurehead if they can.
Yeltsin's foes warned--not for the first time--that the president is preparing to dissolve Parliament.
"All constitutional formalities and legal norms may be forsaken," said Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi, who has been suspended and physically barred from his Kremlin office by Yeltsin. "They will try to push the country into an emergency regime and dictatorship."
Parliament's deputy chairman, Yuri Voronin, told the regional leaders Saturday that Yeltsin might declare "special rule" in the Moscow region, the Interfax news agency reported. Yeltsin aides immediately dismissed "these absurd rumors."
Ever since Parliament tried to impeach Yeltsin in March, the president has been trying to get rid of it--but has been unable to do so without violating Russia's Soviet-era constitution.
Lawmakers have ignored Yeltsin's threats to dissolve Parliament, laughed at his suggestion that Parliament dissolve itself, stymied attempts by Yeltsin to push through a new constitution and refused to call early elections.
Frustrated, Yeltsin organized a "Federation Council" composed of the executive and legislative heads of each of Russia's 88 regions. The Yeltsin team hoped the new body would meet in Moscow on Saturday, set itself up as an alternative quasi-legislature and call for new elections.
The scenario reads much as if President Clinton was to call the governor and Speaker of the House of each of the 50 states to Washington, have them declare that Congress no longer has the support of the people and call early congressional elections.
Unfortunately for Yeltsin, Russia's fractious independent regions refused to play ball.
The leaders did meet Saturday in the Kremlin's St. George Hall. However, not only did they refuse to set up a Federation Council, but many also tromped off immediately afterward to meet with Yeltsin's archenemy, Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov.
Though the officials are scheduled to meet again in October, Saturday's incident showed that Yeltsin lacks the political clout to bend local leaders to his will.
Nikolai A. Pavlov, leader of the conservative Rossiya faction, said the regional leaders "have learned a lot in the past two years. They no longer want to be pawns. They want no part in Kremlin intrigues.
"Instead of doing something about finances, the harvest, the coming hard winter, Yeltsin continues inventing ways and means to get rid of Parliament," Pavlov said. But he scoffed at the idea of emergency rule, saying that if Yeltsin had the strength to impose it, he would have done so long ago.
In the closed-door session, Yeltsin told the regional leaders that he was "categorically opposed" to simultaneous elections for president and Parliament, which he said would endanger stability.
But Yeltsin would agree to early presidential elections six months after parliamentary elections were held, presidential aides said. Yeltsin has previously said he will not stand for reelection when his term expires in 1996.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin appeared to be trying to shore up his position on other fronts. In the past month, the president has visited four key military installations around Moscow.
In tense political times, the tour has given rise to speculation that Yeltsin may intend to call on these troops in case of a showdown with Parliament.
On Saturday, Yeltsin appointed Nikolai Golushko as security minister, in charge of the former KGB. Golushko, once head of the Ukrainian KGB, will presumably be more loyal to Yeltsin than his predecessor, Viktor P. Barannikov, who was fired last month after reportedly refusing to carry out the president's orders.
Sergei L. Loiko, a reporter in The Times' Moscow Bureau, contributed to this story.