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'President' Rutskoi Giving Orders, but No One Hears : Russia: He claims backing but his phones and telex have been cut off. He presides over part of a building.

September 24, 1993|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The man who would be ruler of the world's biggest country slept Thursday morning on a folding cot in his enemy's former office.

Alexander V. Rutskoi, Russia's "acting president," claimed backing from the "masses," but his phones and telex were cut off so he could not communicate with anyone.

Indisputably in charge for the moment of only part of a Moscow building, the mustachioed former fighter pilot and major general called on citizens and soldiers across Russia to stage a campaign of "civil disobedience." He demanded simultaneous early elections for both Parliament and the presidency and said that as proof he would not turn into "another dictator," he would not run in such an election himself.

As he addressed journalists, the government shut off electricity to Russia's Parliament building, known as the White House, plunging much of the multistoried labyrinth into darkness. Unfazed, the man who was shot down twice in Afghanistan kept talking.

And so it went for the elected vice president and decorated Hero of the Soviet Union who, since 25 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, has been trying hard to function as Russia's "acting president" after the Supreme Soviet named him Boris N. Yeltsin's replacement.

Rutskoi, who turned 46 last week, said he was getting only 1 1/2 to 2 hours of sleep a night. He breakfasted on coffee and open-faced sandwiches, then buckled down to work in a suite in the south wing that was once occupied by Yeltsin himself.

Rutskoi's wife, a designer for one of the city's top couturiers, stayed in their Moscow residence and went to her job as usual, aides said.

The office where Rutskoi holed up most of the day was protected by a bodyguard with a walkie-talkie who stood warily at the heavy wooden doors. Rutskoi has only a six-member staff, press secretary Vasily Titov said.

"Yes, he is president of the third floor alone," said supporter Valery N. Konikov, a member of the administration of Rutskoi's People's Party of Free Russia, in an interview in another part of the sprawling White House.

At 6 p.m., striding energetically into an amphitheater, dressed in a stylishly cut, imported gray suit and red patterned tie, Rutskoi began fulminating to reporters about the "practically fascist regime" of Yeltsin, the "vozhd (fuehrer) of the pseudo-democrats."

Calling for "civic resistance" nationwide, Rutskoi, the son and grandson of career officers, asked Russia's men and women in uniform to refuse to obey Yeltsin's defense minister, Pavel S. Grachev, whom he has replaced with his own rival appointee to no visible effect.

"You shouldn't be neutral when the state is being destroyed," Rutskoi said, blasting Russians' widespread apathy about the events now transpiring in Moscow. Once a Yeltsin ally, Rutskoi broke with Yeltsin after accusing him of leading Russia to "economic genocide."

Five minutes into his news conference, half the lights in the room went out and the microphone amplifier dropped in volume. Generators kicked in right away but could furnish only a fraction of the usual electricity.

It was a reminder of who was still the real master outside Russia's Parliament.

"Whether we like it or not, power is in the hands of the administration," said Amangeldi M. Tuleyev, chairman of the local legislature in Siberia's coal-rich Kemerovo region and a supporter of "President Rutskoi." "They've got the money, mass communications, law enforcement agencies."

Not a single foreign country has recognized Rutskoi as Russia's new leader. Obviously irritated, he blasted them for expressing support instead for Yeltsin. "In Holland, can the president change the constitution?" he demanded in pique.

"In Holland, we have a queen," a Dutch journalist shot back.

Even Russia's sister republics in the former Soviet Union, most of which are headed by ex-Communists, have made no noises of support for Rutskoi, who headed a reform Communist faction in Russia's Parliament when Yeltsin tapped him in May, 1991, as his running mate. Rutskoi later broke with Yeltsin over economic reform issues.

Will Rutskoi attend today's summit meeting in Moscow of the Commonwealth of Independent States as Russia's representative?

"Pardon, I haven't been invited," Rutskoi answered.

Yeltsin's press secretary, Vyacheslav V. Kostikov, claimed Rutskoi had tried Wednesday to contact military academies across the country to drum up support, and that all had announced their support for Yeltsin.

Rutskoi's top assistant, Andrei V. Fyodorov, said a police academy in Nizhny Novgorod had come out in favor of Rutskoi, but there was no independent confirmation.

"Rutskoi has no communication with the regions and gets his information only in the corridors of the White House, which is becoming more and more empty," Kostikov said.

On Thursday, even the regular city telephones were cut off to the building (connections to the government network were unplugged a day earlier), and Rutskoi said he was without working phones or a telex.

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