· Parliament taken in tank battle
· Opposition parties and newspapers banned
Tue 5 Oct 1993
President Boris Yeltsin moved swiftly last night to stamp his absolute power on Russia by suspending a range of political movements and closing opposition newspapers after the surrender of his main parliamentary opponents in the wake of the assault on the Russian White House.
Under a decree following the state of emergency that Mr Yeltsin imposed on Sunday, the National Salvation Front, the Russian Communist Party, the United Front of Workers and the Union of Officers were banned, while Pravda, the former organ of the Soviet Communist Party, and a number of other papers were told to cease publication. An overnight curfew was also imposed throughout Moscow.
The ministry of justice justified the clampdown on the grounds that the groups banned had supported the armed uprising launched by hardliners on Sunday afternoon.
With elections promised in December for a new bicameral parliament, the bans will severely limit the options for Russians who oppose Mr Yeltsin. They will also remove the risk that those unhappy with the government’s tough economic reforms will vote for communists on the model of Poland.
The bans, which were formally signed into effect by Yuri Kalmykov, the justice minister, also hit opponents of Mr Yeltsin in the army.
Beside the Union of Officers, a radical movement called Shield was also outlawed. Mr Yeltsin clearly wanted to send a powerful signal to the army that political activity was forbidden.
There is no doubt that the leaders of the groups banned were among the defenders of the White House.
As if to underscore this, arrest warrants were issued last night for Ilya Konstantinov, co-leader of the National Salvation Front and another prominent hardliner, Viktor Anpilov.
But Mr Yeltsin ‘s ban echoed his action two years ago in banning the Russian Communist Party. The Constitutional Court later ruled that he had no right to ban an entire organisation because of the actions of its leading bodies.
With the collapse of the parliamentary opposition, most of its key figures were under arrest last night, including the former vice-president, Alexander Rutskoi, and Ruslan Khasbulatov, parliament’s speaker.
But it emerged that on Sunday night police had detained two deputies of the Moscow City Council, Boris Kagarlitsky and Vladimir Kondratiev, who had no connection with the rebellion. The men were reportedly released last night.
After a grisly 10-hour gun battle in which tanks punched holes in the front of the White House, all but an unknown number of last-ditch snipers surrendered.
The indiscriminate exchanges of fire left hundreds injured and an unknown number dead. The assault set fire to the riverside front of the building and reduced whole floors to rubble.
At 4.50pm local time 300 people, many of them deputies, came out with their hands over their heads, and walked in single file down the steps to waiting buses. Gunfire still crackled overhead.
Earlier in the day, a brief but fierce exchange took place about 200 yards along the embankment, and tank artillery was blamed for starting a fire at the Mezhdunarodnaya hotel.
Two hours after the assault began, Mr Yeltsin appeared on television and laid the blame firmly on Mr Rutskoi’s and Mr Khasbulatov’s shoulders.
Mr Yeltsin said: “We have not been preparing to make war. We were thinking it was possible to make a deal and preserve peace in the capital. Those who began to fire against this city and unleashed this bloodshed are criminals.
“All that was and still is going on in Moscow was an armed revolt planned in advance,” he said. “It was organised by Communists seeking revenge, by fascist leaders and some of the former lawmakers. There can be no forgiveness, because they lifted their hand against peaceful people.”
After parliamentary supporters were seen to fire the first shots on Sunday, breaking through police lines and launching a bloody attack on the Ostankino television centre, which left 69 dead, Mr Yeltsin wanted to justify his use of heavy armour to crush the rebellion.
Mr Rutskoi and Mr Khasbulatov were among the last to surrender after the European Community, to whom they turned with a request to guarantee their safe passage, was assured by Mr Yeltsin ‘s office that no harm would come to the two men.
Mr Khasbulatov denied minutes before his arrest that the uprising’s leaders had ordered Sunday’s attack on Moscow’s main television centre.
“We never ordered the television attack. This was pure provocation,” Mr Khasbulatov told a French television crew. ‘I only heard about [the attack] on my way to the parliamentary session. All this was organised in order to discourage our sympathisers.’
The Russian prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, said the two men had earlier rejected opportunities to surrender.
Other rebel leaders, including General Albert Makashov and Vyacheslav Achalov, the parliament’s “defence minister”, were seized earlier in the assault.
Last night, the Itar-Tass news agency reported that hardline gunmen might still be inside parliament, and there was sporadic shooting. The agency itself came under fire, and troops killed one of the attackers and arrested eight others.
It was impossible to determine the final death toll, although the authorities quoted medical officials as saying that 62 people were confirmed killed, and 400 wounded, in Sunday’s assault on the television centre.
Western leaders, warned in advance of the assault, promptly declared support, but urged a speedy return to constitutionality amid fears that the Russian leader could become a political hostage to the armed forces.
“It is clear that the opposition forces started the conflict, and President Yeltsin had no other alternative but to try to restore order,’ the US president, Bill Clinton, said.
“The US supported Yeltsin because he is Russia’s democratically-elected leader,” he said. “I have no reason to doubt the personal commitment that President Yeltsin made to let the Russian people decide their own future in elections.’
In Blackpool, the Prime Minister, John Major, said: “What is now necessary is that normal order is restored and that the Russians move forward to the elections they planned in December.”
In Brussels, the European Commission announced emergency medical aid of 300,000 ecus (around £235,000) for those wounded in the fighting.
China was the only major power not to back Mr Yeltsin. “We are deeply concerned about the recent bloodshed in Moscow,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
“As a friendly neighbour, we hope to see an end to the conflict and a proper solution to the current situation in the interest of the stability, unity and economic recovery.'”
Last night, special forces barred around 1,000 demonstrators opposed to Mr Yeltsin from entering the television studios of St Petersburg.