President Boris N. Yeltsin has survived the effort by his leading parliamentary enemies and their reactionary backers to topple his government. Now he should quickly go to the Russian people to invite a new vote of approval for his proposed reforms and a vote for new representatives to replace the obstructionist and now disbanded legislature.
What he must avoid doing at all costs is reverting to Russian political tradition by seeking to impose strongman rule in the name of restoring and preserving order. Russia's experiment with democracy remains shaky, but it is an experiment that cries out to be pursued. It is also an experiment to which the United States and other Western nations have pledged billions in direct aid and credits.
WHY THE EFFORT TO OVERTURN YELTSIN FAILED
The sedition preached against Yeltsin's government by parliamentary rebels led by Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi and Parliament Speaker Ruslan I. Khasbulatov failed because it had neither popular support nor backing from the military. It failed because it was seen as nothing more than a naked grab for power by those who have fought political and economic reforms every inch of the way, but who had no credible program of their own to offer as an alternative to Yeltsin's.
In Moscow the people remained essentially indifferent to what was happening in and around the Parliament building, a neutrality that worked in Yeltsin's favor by keeping down the size of the anti-government mob. The rebellion failed too--or so it would be nice to think--because it was fomented by and depended upon the worst elements in the Russian political spectrum: neo-Communists, the "browns" (as the emergent fascistic movements are known), anti-Semites, ultranationalists. However frustrated most Russians may be with what the reforms have so far achieved, they seem clearly disinclined to once again let political extremists take charge of their lives.
WHY WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IS OF GREAT IMPORT TO WEST
The United States and other Western democracies stood firmly with Yeltsin in his--and Russia's--hour of crisis. Certainly that support was warranted, first because Yeltsin did have the legitimacy of being elected in a post-Communist nationwide free ballot--indeed he's the only Russian ever to have been so elected --while the legislature had been chosen under old Soviet rules. And, second, because of the very unpleasant alternative political culture that his enemies represented.
But what now has to be made quietly and unmistakably clear to Yeltsin is that Western support from here on will be neither automatic nor uncritical. Washington and its allies should urge Yeltsin to be scrupulous in following the rule of law in bringing the defeated rebels to account. They should insist that the weekend rebellion not become the excuse for delaying parliamentary or presidential elections. It's vital for Russia's future that the legitimacy of its political institutions be assured; free elections and a liberal new constitution are the foundations on which legitimacy will stand.
The defeat of the rebellion means that Russia still has a chance to make democracy work. But that chance would be squandered if Yeltsin moves in the wake of the attempt to topple him to revert to arbitrary rule. No doubt some around him are urging just such a course. All the more reason why Russia's Western friends must put their weight firmly on the side of restraint, the rule of law and building up of representative institutions. A great deal is at stake for the West, after all. A stable, reasonably democratic Russia could be a force for world stability; a Russia that was once again totalitarian would in short order emerge as a threat to global order.