Support The Moscow Times!

Fighting Engulfs Moscow

Muscovites watch smoke billowing from the parliament building in Moscow, during an assault by the Russian Army. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP / TASS

Scores were killed and hundreds wounded in the center of Moscow on Monday after tanks and troops loyal to President Boris Yeltsin blasted the White House and forced the leaders of his opposition to surrender.

In fighting heavier than Moscow has seen since before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, tanks, howitzers and crack commando units pounded the seat of Russia's legislature, scarring the familiar white building with palls of black smoke and roaring flames.

Parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice President Alexander Rutskoi surrendered at 5: 30 P. M. after several hours of negotiations to guarantee their lives, even as crack government troops fought their way through the building's maze of corridors. They were arrested and taken to Lefortovo Prison, according to Interfax.

As night fell, 300 pro-parliament fighters were reportedly still in the White House. Resistance became quieter, but gunmen moved out into the city, taking up sniper positions in numerous buildings including some on Novy Arbat and Leninsky Prospekt.

Fierce gun battles continued near the White House and on the Garden Ring road at Mayakovsky Square, while an evening assault on the first floor of the liberal newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets was reported to have taken the first floor of the building.

Precise death tolls from the battles at the White House and elsewhere were not available at time of press.

Rutskoi and Khasbulatov emerged from the parliament building in a white bus escorted by an armored personnel carrier. According to a reporter present when Rutskoi was negotiating their surrender by telephone, they demanded safety guarantees from foreign diplomats.

The forced capitulation of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov brought to a dramatic and bloody end not only the siege of the White House, but also their intense political struggle with Yeltsin that has dominated the first two years of Russia's post-communist history.

The two men, as well as parliament's security minister, Viktor Barannikov, Interior Minister Andrei Dunayev, Defense Minister Vladislav Achalov and his deputy Albert Makashov were arrested and placed in Lefortovo, the prison of the former KGB, Interfax said.

Western leaders issued statements throughout the day uniformly backing Yeltsin in his decision, taken at 5 A. M. Monday morning, to use "decisive measures" against the White House.

President Bill Clinton acknowledged in his statement that the attack had been precipitated by pro-parliament forces, which on Sunday rampaged through the streets of Moscow in an attempt to seize power by force of arms.

Pro-parliament demonstrators on Sunday afternoon broke through the police cordon that had surrounded the White House for nearly two weeks, going on to rampage through the city launching armed assaults against key institutions in an attempt to seize power.

At least 62 people were killed in Sunday's fighting and 400 were injured, Itar-Tass reported, mostly in a failed attempt to seize the state television station at Ostankino.

Inside the White House on Monday, the motley group of fighters that has collected there over recent weeks fought fanatically against overwhelming odds for some 10 hours before the outcome became certain.

At 4: 50 P. M. some 200 people emerged from the building to surrender with their hands on their heads. Among them were 76 journalists, including a reporter for The Moscow Times. They and hundreds of other non-combatants, including legislators, had sat terrified in the windowless, candle-lit Hall of Nationalities on the building's third floor.

The legislators had held a brief session of the Congress of People's Deputies at 7: 55 A. M. , less than an hour after Yeltsin's armored personnel carriers had begun to take up positions around the building.

At the session they proposed nominating Yury Skokov, the former secretary of the Security Council, as a compromise president, replacing both Yeltsin and Rutskoi, whom they had appointed acting president on Sept. 21. It was a ludicrous proposal, however, and came too late.

At 8: 50 A. M. the assault began. Tanks and howitzers began to shell the building and assault helicopters were fought off as they buzzed the roof.

As the building trembled under the shock of tank shells, people passed the time in the Hall of Nationalities by singing patriotic songs in the dark, reading poetry and even holding a church service.

Government troops arriving where the journalists were kept at 3: 15 P. M. said they were from Alpha units, crack KGB commandos who were ordered to attack the White House when President Boris Yeltsin defended it in 1991, but refused. They have since been merged into the Kremlin guard.

They were let in without arms at 2: 30 P. M. along with a negotiating team led by the president of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. But according to an eyewitness, the Alpha team commander said that if the negotiations failed, his men would "do whatever necessary".

According to Interfax, those who surrendered were placed in buses and allowed to choose which metro station they would like to be dropped at. They quoted hardline deputy Valentin Agofonov as saying that this was "the only reasonable way out of the situation".

Casualties inside the building were taken to a basement by internal medical units and it was not known how many injured and dead there had been.

As Barannikov and Achalov negotiated with the Alpha units, fires were raging on the 14th, 15th and 16th floors, virtually every window in the building had been shattered and several sections of its walls had been blown in.

Fires also raged in the former Comecon building, which now houses the mayor's offices and foreign businesses. Yeltsin's forces had taken the building early in the day and used it to direct fire against the parliament.

Despite the heavy fighting, crowds of mainly young men gathered on the bridge at Kutuzovsky Prospekt to watch. Other crowds of Yeltsin supporters gathered on Tverskoi Bulvar and by the U. S. Embassy, but scattered when snipers opened fire from Novy Arbat.

Several hundred of those on the bridge appear to have been parliament supporters, who were unarmed but apparently desperate to get into the White House. Around noon they broke through the barricade of tanks, water trucks and troops at the end of the bridge. As they approached the White House, however, gunmen inside the building opened fire.

Read more