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Yeltsin Talks Tough on Crime; Don't Flout Amnesty, Foes Told : Russia: Embattled leader faults his government and courts for allowing criminals to rampage with impunity.

March 04, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Bruised by recent political disaster, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin reprimanded his administration Thursday for failing to act decisively against organized crime and warned his political foes that they will find themselves back behind bars if they step out of line.

Looking fit and ready for a fight, Yeltsin took the unusual step of summoning television cameras to a meeting of the Russian National Security Council to put his enemies on notice.

"If those granted amnesty by the Duma decision start any activities threatening Russia's security, they will again be arrested in accordance with the law," he said.

Reinforcing the get-tough theme he struck in his State of the Nation speech to Parliament last week, Yeltsin warned of a "consolidation" of organized crime and faulted his government's ineffective law enforcement and court systems for allowing criminals to rampage with impunity.

His move seemed aimed at showing himself strong and determined after a series of political setbacks that have left many wondering whether Yeltsin is losing control of the government.

He has had a hellish two weeks. He was outmaneuvered by the conservative Duma, or lower house of Parliament, which declared an amnesty for the hard-liners who tried to topple the government in 1991 and 1993. Worse, Yeltsin was mouse-trapped by his very own, vaunted constitution, which made the amnesty legal.

Next, two trusted aides refused to carry out Yeltsin's orders to delay the hard-liners' release from prison.

After Former Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov walked out of jail Saturday, he declared himself disgusted with politics.

But fired Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi immediately let it be known through aides that he plans to run for president in 1996. The former Afghan War hero, who grew an Old Testament-style beard during his five months in Lefortovo prison, called for peace and national accord and promised to "do my utmost to prevent enmity and antagonism."

Rutskoi has not elaborated on his plans.

Based on the parliamentary amnesty, on Wednesday a court dismissed proceedings against the hard-line leaders accused of plotting to overthrow Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in August, 1991.

It was an ignominious historical footnote to Yeltsin's finest moment, when he climbed atop a tank in front of the White House to defy the Communist junta.

More than 2 1/2 years later, the trial of the putschists had disintegrated into a soapbox from which Yeltsin's enemies denounced him for destroying the Soviet Union and wrecking the Russian economy.

Still, the dismissal of the treason case against the coup-plotters was a symbolic blow to a president who can ill afford more bad news.

"The situation is beginning to smell not of elections in 1996, but of gunpowder and bloodshed here and now," said gloomy economic guru Yegor T. Gaidar in a newspaper interview Thursday.

If the president was clobbered on the domestic front, he fared only a little better on the international stage.

Moscow scored a victory for its newly assertive foreign policy by persuading Radovan Karadzic, the visiting Bosnian Serb leader, to agree to reopen the Tuzla airport to humanitarian shipments.

But relations with the West have worsened because of the Aldrich H. Ames espionage case and its acrimonious aftermath. The damage continued to pile up Thursday, when the Federal Counterintelligence Service disclosed yet another, though far less significant, espionage arrest.

A spokesman for the agency said Thursday that it had arrested two men for allegedly trying to sell the United States secrets about a top-secret T-82 tank manufactured at the Uralvagonzavod plant in the Ural Mountains city of Nizhny Tagil.

One of the men contacted a U.S. Embassy official, identified as Kelli Ann Hamilton, in Moscow in January, 1993, and offered to sell her secrets, spokesman Alexander G. Mikhailov said.

But the case against the two men was dropped in December, 1993, after they confessed and after it was determined that their actions had not damaged Russian national security, he said.

Russia's hard economic times have triggered "a whole flow of such proposals" to trade information for hard currency, Mikhailov said. "In a country that is big, but hungry and poor, patriotism is difficult."

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