By John Helmer in Moscow
The Vice President of Russia, Mr Alexander Rutskoi, has defended the proposed constitution drawn up by the Constitutional Commission, and dismissed criticism that his differences with President Boris Yeltsin amount to a call for replacing the present government.
Mr Rutskoi, who was elected with Mr Yeltsin in Russia’s first presidential election last June, is also the leader of the largest
of the political parties, the Peoples Party of Free Russia (PPFR).
The Vice President set out his political principles and tactics in an interview ahead of the Congress of Peoples Deputies, the Russian super-parliament. The Congress meets next Monday to consider a new constitution and to vote on several moves to replace Mr Yeltsin’s cabinet.
“You know I criticized with energy our government for their mistakes in execution of reforms”, Mr Rutskoi said. “And now we
see plainly those things I warned against — deep financial crisis, a rapid rise of prices, and a decline of industry, and all these against the background of unsolved social problems.”
“During the election [for the Russian presidency in June 1991] I promised [Mr Yeltsin], whatever happens I will be with him together. I’m an officer. I’ve got accustomed to keeping my word. But this doesn’t mean that I can refuse to express my own opinion. In principles and questions of strategy for reforms, I have no disagreements with the President. As for the tactics
of economic reforms, here sometimes there are differences.”
Mr Rutskoi has been a consistent critic of the government’s decisions to raise prices without ensuring increased investment in production to improve supply. Another round of food price increases was launched earlier this month. The government has announced that on Friday (April 3), prices for fuel, energy, and utilities will rise tenfold.
Mr Rutskoi has led the opposition within the government to these increases, and the pressure last week caused Mr Yeltsin to back down temporarily.
Mr Rutskoi was with Mr Yeltsin on a tour of an agricultural complex near Moscow last Friday, when farmers complained angrily that the fuel price increase would make it impossible to carry out spring planting.
Mr Yeltsin responded by saying he would put off the price rise until after the planting season. He also asked Mr Rutskoi to take charge of an effort to reduce the value added tax on foodstuffs. Driven primarily by the need to increase revenue for the government’s budget, Mr Yeltsin agreed in December to setting this tax at 28 percent. Last week the parliament refused to
authorize the current budget until after next week’s Congress, when the government and its economic policies may be changed.
Vice President Rutskoi cautiously defined his political approach between Mr Yeltsin’s ministers on the one hand, and those who are calling for their removal.
“According to the last opinion polls the role of the President has a hih level of support from the population. The rating of the government isn’t high. But do we aim at replacing the government? In my opinion, the removal of this government can create a dangerous vacuum of power. This can be used by the forces of the ‘left-right’ opposition.”
Mr Rutskoi’s reference is to an alliance of nationalists, including Christian Democrats and other anti-communist groups, with the parties that have grown out of the disbanded Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These groups are planning large street demonstrations in Moscow later this week. The Moscow City Council, which is aligning itself with the government, has refused to issue permits for the rallies in Manezh Square.
The Vice President has moved his own party into an alliance with the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) — in Russian terms a centrist group. Together, Mr Rutskoi said, they favour “ways of constructive influence”, with the emphasis on parliamentary
debate and legislation. “Only in this way is it possible,” he said, “to correct the government’s mistakes, and at the same time avoid returning to our communist past.”
The Vice President rejected claims in the Western media that he is a crypto-communist with anti-democratic convictions.
“In the concrete Russian situation, the question isn’t how democracy should be in its ideal form. On this point I have no difference with other democrats. But the question is another. In what way can we pass from our current situation of chaos, of dictatorship of new businessmen, who made their capital in the murky waters of anarchy, and of the dictatorship of the street?”
“I’ll repeat: I was and I am an adherent of democracy. But those who aim to represent me as an anti-market person, an authoritarian anti-democrat do it because of lack of knowledge of facts. Or because they hope to force a wedge between the President and the Vice President, and force a split in the ranks of the democrats.”
Mr Rutskoi’s support of the constitutional draft produced by the Constitutional Commission may open up the most serious division
yet between himself and Mr Yeltsin.
Last Friday Mr Yeltsin suggested he thinks the draft constitution too “socialistic” and would present his own document
when the Congress meets. This is despite the fact that Mr Yeltsin chaired the Commission and approved its draft for
release a fortnight ago.
The President appears now to be siding with the Mayor of St Petersburg, Mr Anatoliy Sobchak, and the Mayor of
Moscow, Mr Gavriil Popov They want the new constitution to transfer power over the economic development of their cities, along with other powers, from parliament to the mayor’s office.
“I’ll speak honestly”, Mr Rutskoi continued. “The Constitutional Commission of the Russian Parliament has done a great
and serious job. It has failed in only one way — to avoid turning the question of the constitution into a battleground for political
confrontation. Today the number of amendments is more than the number of articles in the present constitution.”
Mr Rutskoi said it is essential to consider and ratify a new constitution, because “legal nihilism is increasing in our society, and
also disrespect of law.”
But the Vice President cautioned against trying to push ratification too quickly. “It won’t be a tragedy if this work might not be finished at this Congress of Russian Deputies.” He hinted the differences between the competing versions of the constitution might have to be submitted to a national referendum, before the final version can be decided.
Signaling that he represents law and order for the new Russia, the Vice President warned both Mr Yeltsin’s advisors and parliamentary opponents.
“It is necessary”, he declared, “to have a long-term period of strong and effective executive power under the control of democratically-elected institutions.”
But he added that “these characteristics are mostly absent in our new democracy. Hence the mass disappointment in democracy.”
“When I speak about democratic control”, Mr Rutskoi said, “I mean first of all an effectively operating parliament.” He conceded that this too has not yet been established.
According to the Vice President, the government and parliament have to work more cooperatively for the time being. He said the political parties need time to organize themselves in the countryside, and that until they do, he does not favour calling new elections.
Mayor Popov and others among Mr Yeltsin’s advisors have been urging elections with the argument that Mr Yeltsin’s opponents still dominate the parliament, and national elections would eliminate them, creating a new, more effective mandate for the government’s policy.
“According to my opinion,” Mr Rutskoi said, “the dissolution of parliament now can lead us to unpredictable consequences. We can hope that in future a relatively stable multi-party system will be formed, and then it will be possible to hold elections to parliament on a party basis. If we organize elections this year, we’ll again see the personal approach.”
RUTSKOI ON TARGETING NUCLEAR MISSILES
Vice President Rutskoi responded for the first time to press reports of claims that Russia will no longer target its nuclear
missiles at the USA.
The Moscow Times asked: “There are many who say that Russia is more secure today, and should therefore adopt a new defence doctrine with unilateral nuclear arms reductions, a halt to targeting of the USA, and territorial concessions in East, West and South. What in your view as a professional military man should be the principles and priorities of the new Russian defence doctrine?”
The Vice President replied:
“Our military doctrine has a defensive character, and is based on the principle of reasonable sufficiency. I’m for the reduction of armed forces and armaments, nuclears also. But I can’t quite understand why the question should only be about unilateral reductions. From my point of view, it’s a complex process, and all nuclear powers need to take part in it.
“Today, when the question is about whether the missiles are targeted at the USA, Europe, Asia, this is absurd. The next question is: At what objects are they armed? Maybe at Mars or at the Great Bear [constellation]? We have rejected looking at world affairs from the viewpoint of military confrontation, and that’s right. But it doesn’t mean that we need to begin immediately the process of disarmament in unilateral order. Let’s look: Western countries carry out their disarmament step by step, without
decrease of their fighting trim. At the same time these countries continue their technological advancement, aimed at the creation of qualitatively new sorts of armament. The Operation Desert Storm showed this explicitly.
“The question about territorial concessions is not quite understandable. In my opinion, if there will be some questions of borders between Russia and other independent state-republics of the former Union, they should be solved in a legal, constitutional way, or as the outcome of political negotiations. They are complicated problems. Today territorial discussions can unleash sharp conflicts. I hope that in the relationships of members of the CIS, the integration process will be the main way, as it goes today in Europe, and the question of borders and territorial concessions will no longer arise.”