MOSCOW -- The failure to impeach Russian President Boris Yeltsin and unseat his archrival Parliament Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov got mixed reaction from deputies at Sunday's Congress of People's Deputies.
Close Yeltsin aide and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai called it a 'serious victory for the president,' although he did not rule out that there would be further attempts to unseat Yeltsin at future Congresses.
Yeltsin himself told thousands of his supporters gathered outside the Kremlin walls that the failure of the ouster had averted 'a Communist coup.'
But Khasbulatov immediately claimed victory for himself, interpreting the result as a small triumph for the legislature in its ongoing power struggle with the president over the issue of who rules Russia.
'The results of the vote show that all the conflicts between the president and the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) are not my fault,' he said in an interview with the news agency Interfax.
He said the deputies who voted against him 'were furious that I show an excessive desire to make concessions to the president.'
Hard-line lawmakers at the Soviet-era Congress engineered a vote to oust the Parliament speaker after he put forward a compromise proposal worked out Saturday night with Yeltsin to solve Russia's lingering constitutional crisis.
Deputies felt Khasbulatov had betrayed them by going behind their backs to do a deal with the president, and tried to oust them both in a secret ballot.
A Congress majority -- 617 members -- voted against Yeltsin, but that was 72 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach him. With 339 voting against Khasbulatov and 558 for him, he easily cleared the 50-percent hurdle needed to survive the ouster attempt.
The anti-Yeltsin opposition welcomed the result, claiming they did not expect so many deputies to vote against the president. 'Six hundred votes is an acknowledgement of a profound crisis,' said nationalist Sergei Baburin.
'We did not even expect to get 600 votes, but our constitutional duty made us take this path to the very end,' he said. 'Deputies put the constitution above their personal sympathies and antipathies.'
The ouster attempt was deputies' response to Yeltsin's March 20 declaration of presidential rule, which was quickly ruled unconstitutional by Russia's top legal body, thus clearing the way to impeachment proceedings by Congress.
Russian government ministers seemed relieved by the result. The moderate prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, accompanied Yeltsin to a rally of his supporters after the vote in a strong show of government backing for the embattled president.
'If the Congress had impeached him, it would have been the kind of cataclysm that Russia cannot cope with right now,' said Information Minister Mikhail Fedotov. 'It would have put the crisis on a whole new, very dangerous level.'
He admitted he had expected fewer anti-Yeltsin votes and said the president would have to draw the necessary conclusions. 'He must in the future pay more attention to his relations with Parliament,' the minister said.
But Boris Nemtsov, governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, said the battles at Congress would merely prompt regional leaders to call for greater independence from a center too engrossed in its own power struggle to govern the country.
'The two branches of power have annihilated each other,' he said. 'They have self-destructed.'