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Russian parliament lashes out


MOSCOW -- Russia's parliament, angry and frustrated at how easily Chechen guerrillas captured nearly 2,000 hostages and then drove home to freedom, launched its own political war on the government yesterday.

Officially, the State Duma attacked Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and his Cabinet by approving a motion of no confidence in the government, 241-70. But the vote was intended as a strong rebuke to President Boris N. Yeltsin.

"The latest tragedy in Budyonnovsk is a typical example of vTC incompetence and irresponsibility of our authorities," said Sergei Glazyev, referring to the five-day crisis in the southern Russia town. "Today the whole country has become a hostage to adventurism and incompetence," said Mr. Glazyev, the deputy who initiated the vote.

The no-confidence vote doesn't mean the government falls. The constitution allows Mr. Yeltsin to ignore it. But if, within three months, the Duma repeats its vote, Mr. Yeltsin must either dissolve the government or dissolve the Duma and call new elections.

Yesterday, Mr. Yeltsin's spokesman said the president would back the prime minister.

"The president and the prime minister share the same position on all issues and always act together," said Sergei Medvedev, the spokesman. "All those who are talking about disagreements between them are either incompetent or doing so seeking to provoke."

Mr. Chernomyrdin said he had no intention of resigning.

"The government of Russia will carry on as before despite the results of the vote in the State Duma," he said. "I am ready to step down if someone can prove that he can do better."

Mr. Yeltsin managed to have the constitution adopted after his troubled relations with the previous parliament deteriorated into a siege and bombardment of the Russian legislature in October 1993. The constitution makes it difficult to impeach the president, so the Duma expressed its displeasure with the no-confidence vote yesterday.

The Duma has been simmering with impatience the past several months, with many deputies accusing Mr. Yeltsin of exercising little control over the government and blaming him for ignoring rampant corruption and slow economic progress.

Impatience turned to rage over the weekend when Mr. Yeltsin remained in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at an Group of Seven summit -- even going to the circus -- while the Chechen separatists holding some 2,000 hostages in a hospital in Budyonnovsk forced Moscow to stop its 6-month-old assault on separatist Chechnya and guarantee the rebels a safe return to Chechnya.

Initially, Russian officials resisted the rebels' demands. They ordered troops to storm the hospital, only to have their forces repulsed, with dozen of hostages killed or wounded.

Then Mr. Chernomyrdin opened negotiations with the rebels and agreed to compromises that set free the hostages and the rebels. The last contingent of hostages, who had volunteered to serve as human shields for departing rebels, returned safely to Budyonnovsk on buses yesterday.

In all, about 100 people died during the hostage crisis.

"All the problems of our policy are caused by the president's unpredictability," Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal leader and Duma deputy, said yesterday.

The Duma tried a no-confidence vote last fall, after a sudden and dramatic drop in the value of the ruble. Mr. Yeltsin's conservative opponents, however, failed to win the support of more liberal deputies.

Yesterday, many of the liberals joined in. They had predicted in December, when Moscow invaded Chechnya, that nothing good would come of the assault. Yesterday, they voted against the government in anger at that war, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.

"President Yeltsin carries full responsibility for the social-economic situation in the country and most of all for the civil war," Mr. Yavlinsky said. "If we had been given a real opportunity to impose impeachment procedures against the president, we should have done that."

In another sign of growing resentment at the nation's leadership, a rally held yesterday in Budyonnovsk called upon the president, parliament and government to resign.

"The tragic events in Budyonnovsk on June 14 to 21 were the result of the inept policy pursued by the president, government and the power ministers," the leaders of the rally said.

The Budyonnovsk rally was held to greet the 123 volunteer hostages who had served as human shields in accompanying the Chechen guerrillas back to Chechnya -- a 30-hour circuitous journey to cover about 90 miles.

"During five days, the population of Budyonnovsk, the people of Russia and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin stood shamefully on their knees in front of bandits and reprobates, who have no right to live on Earth," the rally statement said.

It asked that all Chechens and any persons without permits to live in Budyonnovsk be expelled from the town.

Shamil Basayev, the leader of the Chechen rebels, said he had been on his way to Moscow when he took the hostages in Budyonnovsk, a city of 54,000 people in the steppes of southern Russia.

He said he had entered the region by bribing traffic police, but had to stop in Budyonnovsk when the bribes got too expensive.

Police officials said that was impossible. The Budyonnovsk police chief, Nikola Lyashenko, conceded that of course traffic police might help themselves to a watermelon or two from a truck.

"But they would not let through two trucks full of terrorists," he said.

Russians, who have heard numerous reports about Russian soldiers selling Chechens their guns and who are routinely forced to bribe traffic police, weren't so sure.

"Maybe Basayev lied," the newspaper Sevodnya said, "but his words sound more than convincing to a Russian ear."

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