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Yeltsin’s Siberian Opponents Make a Comeback

October 31, 1993

NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia (AP) _ Deep in Siberia, Boris Yeltsin’s opponents are making a comeback, trying to win the December parliamentary elections in the rich Russian hinterland.

Yeltsin’s supporters are worried. His representative in Novosibirsk, Anatoly Manokhin, believes the hard-liners might succeed if the many new reform groups run separate candidates and split the pro-Yeltsin vote.

″The democrats lack discipline, organization and unity,″ he said. ″Their ranks are full of people with personal ambitions. The communists are a real threat.″

Although only four of the 450 deputies will be chosen in the Novosibirsk region, Yeltsin faces opposition across Russia - in Siberia, which wants control over its natural wealth; the Ural Mountains industrial area; and the farm belt.

A strong hard-line bloc in the new federal parliament and the powerful regional councils, or legislatures, could work against reform and ignite a new power struggle between the central government and the regions.

Moscow and the regions are wrangling over such sticky issues as taxes, who will make the regional budgets, which laws have precedence and who controls raw materials and property.

Regional councils, dominated by former Communists seeking to preserve their power and privileges, backed the hard-liners who defied Yeltsin’s order Sept. 21 dissolving the federal parliament.

The president’s use of tanks to drive armed deputies from the parliament building Oct. 4 intensified opposition in the Novosibirsk regional council. His decision five days later to strip the councils of budget-setting authority further angered the hard-liners.

″Everywhere, they are chopping our hands off and taking away our power,″ said Vladimir Gubin, spokesman for the Novosibirsk council. ″Tough political times are ahead. The problems have not been resolved.″

Novosibirsk, a city of 1.4 million people 1,850 miles east of Moscow, is a relic of Soviet planners. It exhibits little of the entrepreneurial energy that is changing the faces of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Some wooden buildings survive from the town founded in 1893 as a way station on the Trans-Siberian Railway, but most of Russia’s third-largest city is a bleak grid of concrete buildings and muddy streets.

The few white, blue and red Russian flags that fly over government buildings are greatly outnumbered by Soviet symbols, including statues of Lenin and revolutionary street names.

At the heart of the conflict between Yeltsin and his opponents in Siberia is the choice of a new political and economic system: The president wants most of the power to remain in Moscow; the regions want more say about their own financial and political affairs.

In an April referendum called to test public support for his presidency, Yeltsin won 54 percent of the Novosibirsk region’s vote. He remains popular here, but his efforts to dictate local affairs could hurt the reform bloc.

″The future parliament is in the pocket of the president,″ said Sergei Krupenkov, a brick-factory worker who said he did not plan to vote. ″There is no possibility to have candidates from the real opposition.″

Siberia’s rich deposits of oil, gas, coal and ores, provide more than 80 percent of all Russian hard-currency earnings, are still controlled by Moscow and most of the money goes there.

Many Siberians note bitterly that, despite all their natural wealth, life is better in Moscow than in Novosibirsk.

A subway ride, for instance, costs 50 rubles in Novosibirsk and only half that in Moscow. While bread prices have risen more than 100 rubles in Novosibirsk since the federal government ended controls Oct. 15, they did not go up in Moscow until this weekend.

Siberian hard-liners have formed an alliance of communist, nationalist, and anti-Semitic parties called For People’s Power.

Opponents of the president ″must unite,″ not argue among themselves, said city councilman Dmitry Putschin of the People’s Party for a Free Russia. The party was founded by Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who has been in jail since Yeltsin’s confrontation with parliament.

″We must have our people in parliament,″ said Valery Karpov, a member of the regional council who represents the still-legal Russian Communist Party.

Support for Yeltsin has eroded even among miners in the Kemerovo coal fields east of Novosibirsk, his staunchest allies in the region.

Since the government lifted price controls on coal last summer and ordered large increases in freight charges, the price of Kemerovo coal has soared, costing the region domestic and international customers.

Vyacheslav Golikov, his representative in Kemerovo, told Yeltsin in an open letter that the miners may desert him if their problems are not addressed.


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