Foes of Yeltsin Get Ultimatum : Russia: Parliament members have until Monday to end their standoff or face ‘grave consequences.’ Lawmakers vote to accept prelate as a mediator.
The Yeltsin government issued an ultimatum Wednesday, ordering defiant Parliament members to quit the Russian White House by Monday or face “grave consequences.”
In the first sign that hard-line lawmakers may be willing to compromise with the president who ordered them dispersed, a late-night session of what remains of the Congress of People’s Deputies announced that it will accept an offer by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II to mediate the conflict.
The deputies said they are ready “to immediately get down to talks mediated by Alexi II in the Danilov Monastery,” a historic Moscow landmark, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. There was no immediate response from President Boris N. Yeltsin’s government.
Earlier Wednesday, the Russian and Moscow governments demanded that rebellious Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov and ousted Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi organize a withdrawal from the darkened Parliament building, where about 100 lawmakers and at least several hundred armed supporters have barricaded themselves for more than a week.
The ultimatum promised that if those “who do not have the right to bear arms” surrender them, the government will neither prosecute them nor use weapons “during actions aiming to evacuate all people from the building.” The order also guarantees personal safety and political freedom to anyone who leaves the building, known as the White House, and its grounds.
Soon afterward, Albert M. Makashev, a National Salvation Front leader appointed “deputy defense minister” by the Parliament, strode out onto the balcony of the White House and said that if government forces moved in, his men would shoot to kill, Russian Television reported.
Some of the ragged paramilitary units that are guarding the White House reportedly began drawing a line on the ground outside the building, defining their territory for the benefit of the government troops surrounding them. About 3,000 Interior Ministry troops, armed with AK-47s, water cannon and grenade launchers, have cordoned off a half-mile-square area around the building.
Makashev said the “White House defenders” are armed with anti-tank and anti-infantry mines, the Vesti television program reported.
“It’s difficult to say what they have and don’t have,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Nikolai I. Boiko. The anti-Yeltsin forces certainly have pistols, submachine guns, machine guns and plenty of ammunition, but their claims to have heavy weapons and even missiles are impossible to verify because the Parliament’s security service reports only to Khasbulatov, Boiko said.
“We don’t know what military hardware has been brought in and stored in the White House in recent weeks and months,” Boiko said. “We have never been in a position to check.”
The 9-day-old confrontation between Yeltsin and the forces loyal to the Parliament he dissolved claimed a third life on Wednesday.
A traffic officer, 47-year-old Lt. Col. Vladimir Reshtuk, died of injuries sustained during a street brawl that broke out after riot police barred at least 1,000 pro-Yeltsin demonstrators from the area around the White House.
Reshtuk was knocked down by demonstrators and struck by a moving vehicle. Boiko said the father of six was unarmed except for his baton.
Also Wednesday, police released eight people detained last week on suspicion of attacking the Commonwealth of Independent States military headquarters. A police officer and a bystander were killed in the attack, which authorities blamed on extremist pro-Parliament groups.
Although the eight suspects were released for lack of evidence, Itar-Tass reported that they may still face civil charges of “disobedience during detention” and other offenses. The alleged ringleader, Col. Stanislav N. Terekhov of the Officers Union, a conservative anti-Yeltsin military faction, remains under investigation, police said.
Patriarch Alexi II cut short a visit to the United States and rushed back to Moscow on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he appealed to both sides to avoid bloodshed.
“One bullet fired from outside the White House may lead to a disaster with an echo resounding throughout the country,” the religious leader said. He called on both sides to resist provocation and offered to mediate the conflict.
The agonizing standoff is forcing people at all levels of Russian society to choose sides. That process continued Wednesday as the Yeltsin camp dangled job offers for defecting lawmakers and Russia’s Constitutional Court splintered.
Two judges who were reported to have resigned on Tuesday said Wednesday that they were not quitting but only “suspending their activities” to protest the alleged pro-Parliament tilt of the court’s chairman, Valery D. Zorkin.
One of the two, Judge Ernest M. Ametistov, came out squarely behind the president, declaring: “In the case of victory of the people in the White House now, I am absolutely sure we would have the worst form of dictatorship, fascism, terror and bloodshed.”
The court responded with a statement warning that “truant” judges might face suspension.
With the prospect that the standoff at the White House could drag on at least until Monday, Russians turned their attention to the provinces.
“It’s more a game between Yeltsin and the regions than between Yeltsin and the Parliament,” said historian Andrei V. Kortunov of Moscow’s U.S.A. and Canada Institute. “Now he has to convince the regions that it is in their best interests to have elections.”
Local officials remain divided among Yeltsin backers (mainly executive-branch authorities), Parliament supporters (mainly local legislators) and plenty of nervous and uncertain people trying mightily to sit on the fence.
In Novosibirsk, 140 local lawmakers from 14 Siberian regions met Wednesday and sent Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin a telegram demanding an immediate halt to both the blockade of the Russian Parliament building and censorship of the press, Itar-Tass reported. The Siberian officials directed a similar appeal to the United Nations and to lawmakers of other nations.
The local officials threatened to stop traffic on the Transsiberian railway if the Yeltsin government did not reply to their appeal in three hours and stated that if their appeals were not met, they would also stop paying taxes to Moscow, stop exports of coal, oil and gas and expropriate all Russian Federation property on their territory.
There was no immediate response from the Yeltsin government Wednesday evening--or from Siberian administrative officials who are believed loyal to Yeltsin. But the deadline passed without disruption of Siberian railway traffic.
Meanwhile, in oil-rich Tatarstan, which has declared itself to be a sovereign state inside the Russian Federation, “50% of the republic’s industrial enterprises back the Russian president, while the other half are keeping mum,” Itar-Tass reported.
The management of the giant Kamaz truck factory, for example, declared itself too busy working to engage in politics.
Nazim Vakirov, the head of Tatarstan’s Supreme Soviet Secretariat, said it was also unclear whether the region will hold elections on Dec. 11-12 as Yeltsin has decreed.
Sergei Loiko and Andrei Ostroukh of The Times’ Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.