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The Constitutional Standoff


A broad opposition in the Supreme Soviet, a Soviet-style Russian parliament elected in 1990, soon obstructed the implementation of the reforms. It consisted mainly of deputies representing the interests of state enterprises, collective farms, and the military-industrial complex. The liberalization of prices, especially energy prices, and the abolition of government orders and cheap credits made the majority of industrial and agricultural companies unprofitable. Many of them were insolvent and faced the threat of closure. 

The shelling of the parliament building by tanks: 4 October, 1993

The new economic realities seriously affected the behavior of the Supreme Soviet and led to the spiraling confrontation between the executive branch represented by the president and the reformist government, on the one hand, and the legislature in the form of the Supreme Soviet, on the other.

The Supreme Soviet insisted on financial assistance to industry to avert the economic collapse of entire branches of industry and to prevent mass unemployment, which could lead to a social explosion. The government, on the other hand, saw the way forward in raising the economic efficiency of enterprises by turning them into share-holding companies and insisted that subsidies and cheap credits to unrestructured enterprises would only fuel inflation and give a lifeline to inefficient producers.

This was the essence of the confrontation between the legislative and the executive branches: the Supreme Soviet preferred hyperinflation to the collapse of production, whereas the government sought financial stabilization by any means, even at the cost of the mass closure of industrial enterprises. In their ferocious standoff the government and parliament appealed to two different constituencies: the executive branch sought the support of those sectors of the population that had benefited from the market reforms, and the Supreme Soviet strove to champion the interests of those who stood to lose from the reforms.

The conflict between the executive and the legislative branches determined the development of Russian politics in 1992 and 1993 and reached its climax in the bloody clash in October 1993, when Yeltsin ordered the shelling of the parliament building by tanks after the Supreme Soviet had refused to obey his order to dissolve itself.

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