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Russians Shrug Off Impeachment Vote

May 16, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Dima Ivanov always read the articles in Russian newspapers about President Clinton’s impeachment saga. Yet he skipped over the news about efforts to impeach his own president.

``It’s all internal political games that have no meaning for me,″ said Ivanov, 27, a recent business school graduate. ``(Boris) Yeltsin’s a sick fool, but look at the others, the ones attacking him. They’re even worse.″

Ivanov was among hundreds of young people shouting and cheering outside parliament Saturday shortly after lawmakers failed to impeach Yeltsin. But not for political reasons: The crowd was heading to a rock concert on nearby Revolution Square.

Many Russians disillusioned by frequent government shakeups and political upheaval shrugged off the impeachment vote. Some felt powerless or alienated by the petty politicking of the process. Others were just too busy trying to make ends meet.

Just a few hundred people, mostly elderly hard-line supporters, gathered outside Moscow’s parliament building for all three days of the debate to cheer for Yeltsin’s removal. Elsewhere, there were no demonstrations or any sign of popular reaction.

Some elderly women outside parliament broke into tears after learning the outcome of the vote.

But a few hundred yards away, huge crowds were thronging Red Square and an underground shopping mall, some unaware that the vote was being held.

``I watched some of (the impeachment proceedings) on TV, but then turned it off. It was everybody shouting and saying the same things they always say,″ said one of the concert-goers, who only gave his first name, Viktor.

Even the Russian media focused more on events in Yugoslavia in the weeks leading up to the vote than on Russian politics. Yeltsin’s impeachment trial received only a bit more coverage in Russia than Clinton’s did.

The impeachment debate was a crucial test for Yeltsin and spotlighted the problems that plague Russia.

The democratic system and wild version of capitalism that Yeltsin ushered in after he orchestrated the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union have not improved most Russians’ lives. One of the impeachment counts charged him with waging genocide against the Russian people with policies that impoverished millions.

But most Russians do not want to return to the Soviet era. They want a steady paycheck and hope for the future. The impeachment debate was not going to produce either, and left many people outside the corridors of power feeling more disconnected than ever.

``Moscow is a foreign country for me,″ said Olga Chernyak, a journalist speaking by telephone from the steel town of Cherepovets, 360 miles north of the capital.

``The (lawmakers) are always talking about what’s wrong and what happened in the past,″ she said. ``Why aren’t they solving the problems of salaries and pensions?″

Russians’ indifference toward the impeachment vote doesn’t mean they’re fond of Yeltsin. His approval ratings are in the low single digits, and some Russians wrote him off as unfit to rule a long time ago.

But many viewed the impeachment debate as nothing but a political attack on Yeltsin by his Communist-led enemies.

Arsen Mamedov, a pensioner in a tattered nylon jacket sitting in a park outside the Kremlin, paid little attention to the impeachment debates, but admitted he was relieved at the outcome.

``I’m tired of instability,″ Mamedov said. ``Maybe things would be more stable without Yeltsin,″ but the chaos that could ensue if Yeltsin were removed from office would be devastating, he said.