Yeltsin's foes begin to falter Parliament, rag-tag supporters cling to gloomy headquarters

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOSCOW -- As President Boris N. Yeltsin kept up the pressure yesterday, the leaders of the parliamentary camp ensconced in Russia's parliament building seemed to be living more and more in a world of their own imagination.

With little electricity, feeble radio links, no phone or fax service, no hot water -- not even any tea or coffee -- they seemed to be having trouble concentrating on the reality of their isolation.

Alexander Rutskoi, who was proclaimed president by Parliament after it refused to obey Mr. Yeltsin's order Tuesday night to disband, appeared on the plaza in front of Parliament's seat, the White House, to swear in his new guard.

Grandly dubbed the Battalion Named After the Supreme Soviet, it consisted of about 200 would-be soldiers and heroes, scrawny teens and pot-bellied old men, clad in everything from battle fatigues to track suits to turn-of-the-century officers' uniforms.

They tramped half-smartly, chests out, around the plaza in a late-afternoon ceremony. One commander brandished a sword; another, a whip. They flew flags of days gone by: One company flew an old imperial czarist banner; another, the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the U.S.S.R.

"This is the rebirth not only of Russia but of the Soviet Union," proclaimed Mr. Rutskoi.

He then announced that the Russian army and police forces had two hours -- until 6 p.m. -- to come over to his side, or face reprisals. That deadline came and went with no discernible movement.

Earlier, President Rutskoi had conducted a walking tour of his domain -- that is, along the streets immediately surrounding the White House.

The 2,000 demonstrators who were standing vigil outside -- those with swastikas and those with Orthodox crosses, those with hammer-and-sickle emblems and those with imperial colors -- gave him heartfelt cheers. But the mood kept spiraling downward for the hard-liners.

At the Kremlin, Mr. Yeltsin was giving a television interview in dTC which he said he thought his foes had just about run their race.

"They are having their last wind, they are running out of everything, and this farce should be ended," he said. "It is simply a farce, a shame in the eyes of the whole world."

Mr. Yeltsin fired the head of the local government in Bryansk yesterday for failing to support him. Several local councils across Russia vowed to defy Mr. Yeltsin's order. But otherwise there was little evidence that the nation was rising up in support of the parliament.

The police were out in force, and they kept a tight circle around the White House, with just one entryway, which they closed off from time to time just to show they could.

"We'll be here until life itself ends," vowed Mr. Rutskoi. "I would not be a traitor, even if it means my physical elimination.

"Nobody is suffering here. They understand quite well why they are here -- because they are defending the law and the constitution, and their rights as human beings, against the establishment of a fascist regime."

Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, chairman of the parliament, gave a press conference in which he heaped abuse on Mr. Yeltsin. He said the Russian president was "sick" -- in the sense of deranged -- and "drunk."

"You can't compromise with criminals," Mr. Khasbulatov said, and he vowed to continue the fight from another city if the parliamentary camp should capitulate in Moscow.

Many deputies were absent, although one, Ivan Rybkin, said they were busy working on a variety of problems -- foremost among them being the establishment of communication links with the regions.

The Congress of People's Deputies, one of Parliament's two chambers, convened in the morning and immediately adjourned, for what proved to be an indefinite period.

Besides Mr. Rutskoi's Battalion Named After the Supreme Soviet, there were dozens of free-lancers walking around in fatigues in the parliament's redoubt.

"It's clear any attack on this house would lead to a mini-civil war," said Andrei Fyodorov, Mr. Rutskoi's spokesman.

Referring to the scruffy and perhaps unreliable self-appointed guards, he said: "Not everyone here is in a mood of tranquillity. Yes, anything can happen. As Eric Clapton said, there's one in every crowd."

On Thursday night, two people were killed when a group of men attacked the headquarters of the CIS forces on Leningradsky Prospekt.

Yesterday, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said that a leader of the right-wing Union of Officers, Stanislav Terekhov, had been -- arrested and confessed his involvement.

In the White House, a Communist legislator, Viktor Anpilov, said last night that he had known of Mr. Terekhov's plan to attack the headquarters before the event.

Late in the day, as the building darkened and the demonstrators drifted off home to beat the encroaching cold, gloom began to set in.

But in general, said Viktor Alksnis, one of the hard-line deputies, the mood among his colleagues was swinging wildly, from pessimism to optimism and back again.

"Sometimes it comes to despair," he said. "For instance, when we got the bad news from Siberia, that they weren't supporting us. But on the other hand, we were proud when 12 soldiers came here from Lyubertsy," a suburb of Moscow.

"Officers would be understandable; they have some political sophistication. But when soldiers come here -- just boys -- it moves us to tears."

They are just boys. Drafted a year ago, the 12 soldiers, aged 18 and 19, were fidgeting in an upstairs lounge.

"We've come here because we're on the side of the people," said one.

They had already refused the entreaties of their company commander, who had come to the White House to try to persuade them to come back, he said.

"We're not going to retreat," the soldier said. They refused to give their names. They looked as though they were doomed.

Mr. Alksnis said this was the fourth time he had been in such a situation -- all of which had turned out disastrously for him. The first was when he was a member of the National Salvation Front of Latvia -- a Communist committee set up to demand a Soviet military crackdown in January 1991.

The second was when he worked for the State Committee for the State of Emergency -- the group that launched the coup in Moscow in August 1991.

The third was when the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. was disbanded the following September, as a direct result of the failure of the August coup.

"Well, inside I am ready for defeat," he said. "But that doesn't break me."

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