Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “In the heart of the conflict in the autumn of 1993 lay a different approach to privatization”

Twenty-five years ago, on October 4, between 3 and 4 am, Boris Yeltsin decided to storm the House of Soviets. Orders were given to use tanks and armoured vehicles.

Apart from those politicians who in the autumn of 1993, thirsted for blood with maniacal excitement (there were plenty of those on both sides), the peacemakers trying hard to prevent violent conflict could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

One of them was Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, at that time the President of Kalmykia.We bring to your attention an exclusive interview with Kirsan Nikolayevich published in one of the federal newspapers.

- In October 1993, you had a special role of a political mediator between the opposing parties.I remember how the shooting suddenly stopped, and you dressed all in white (it seems, it was a raincoat) entered the White House. It looked spectacular. 
The last thing I thought about was how I looked like. And to be precise, I was not wearing a raincoat but a white, or rather, light suit. It’s not that I remember what I wore on a particular day 20 years ago: I just recently watched a video recording of those events.
In September 1993, when it became clear that the conflict between the President and the Supreme Council was irreversible, at the initiative of several politicians - Ramazan Abdulatipov, Anatoly Sobchak and mine - the Council of the Federation Subjects was created. It was a prototype of the current Federation Council.
Many regional leaders and chairmen of legislative assemblies, who opposed direct conflict, entered this body. I and Vadim Gustov, Chairman of the Leningrad Soviet were elected co-chairs. We gathered in the office of the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin, and made an appeal to the warring parties. It was signed by 68 people.
- What was your plan of action?
In order to prevent war and division within society, we proposed to adopt the so-called “zero option”. The Supreme Council should revoke its ruling on the impeachment of Boris Nikolayevich, and he, in turn, shall cancel his decree on the dissolution of the Supreme Council. Thus, we called on both parties to return to their original positions.
Patriarch Alexy II in his message to the President and the Supreme Council also requested this. Based on this decision, we began to prepare the ground for negotiations. I and Gustov approached Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Chairman of the Government, which was located in Old Square.
Chernomyrdin called Interior Minister Yerin and they gave us passes to the Supreme Soviet. It was 30 September, and on the same day we went to Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment and held talks with Khasbulatov and Rutskoy...  
- Why did you, the negotiators, fail to reconcile the parties? 
The conflict has gone too far. Patriarch Alexy did not succeed either... A lot of military equipment had been already driven into Moscow. On 3 October, I was sitting in the office of commander of one of the branches of the military and I saw this armada. With so many weapons concentrated in one place it became clear that a collision is almost inevitable, although there was still hope for a peaceful resolution of the issue.
We called all the members of the Council and scheduled a meeting in the Constitutional Court on 4 October. But there was a clash in Ostankino at night and shots were fired near the White House in the morning. I and the President of Ingushetia, a Hero of the Soviet Union Ruslan Aushev called and came to Zorkin. He turned on the TV and we watched a live shootout. Then Aushev and I decided to go to the White House as negotiators to stop the bloodshed.
We agreed to use my Lincoln. The problem was how to make them recognize us? There were white curtains in Zorkin’s office. I decided that this was exactly what we needed. He took the one with a metal rod and driver Valera helped me to fix this rod with a curtain on my car. And that’s how we reached the Supreme Council with this "white flag". We also had a priest with us.
There was shooting everywhere. It stopped only after they announced on the radio that the negotiators arrived. But immediately after I and Aushev entered the building the shooting resumed again.  
-Was anybody hurt?  
There are large windows in this building and the windowsills are low. You need not just bend down but to lie on the floor to avoid the bullets. Many were wounded and killed there. Stepping over the bodies Aushev and I began to climb up to Rutskoy and Khasbulatov.
Ruslan grumbled: “Look, I became a president and went through Afghanistan just to get a bullet in the centre of Moscow, right?” I told him: “Well, Ruslan, I am also a president but unlike you I am not a hero of war.” That’s how we encouraged ourselves while dodging bullets on our way.
-How did you feel at that time?At least Aushev had combat experience but you were there in your white suit in the middle of bloodshed and moans... 
Well, I had no time to change clothes. I went there without thinking of what I wear. As for the bloodshed... You know, I was morally ready for what I would see. I served in the army. During the Afghanistan war I volunteered to be sent there but my appeal was rejected. I took part in some fighting, more precisely, in reconciliation of the warring parties during the Ossetian-Ingush conflict...
On our way I suddenly saw the deputy of the Supreme Council, executive secretary of the Constitutional Commission Oleg Rumyantsev sitting on the floor and talking on the phone. It was a huge Motorola radio telephone. All communications with the city and in the building were turned off.
It turned out he was talking to Lobov, the secretary of the Security Council. He gave me the phone and I said: “We are here with Ruslan Aushev; you must give order to cease fire”. I told him that there were many women and children. The blockaded were not only deputies but also service personnel. Their children used to bring food there. Once, they were let in but not allowed to leave.
I asked Lobov: "Stop shooting and let us take women and children out." The shooting stopped and we took more than a hundred people out. Then we ourselves came out. The building was already burning. Ruslan shouted: “Faster, faster!” We rushed to the car. As soon as we got in, it was immediately fired upon. Later, I counted nine holes. Nobody was hurt...
-And who did shooting? 
There were tanks on the bridge.  The shots were made from them. 
Thus, you have failed political negotiations... 
Well, what kind of politics could be there when the guns talk? But I did everything I could. And I would do the same today. Although I had a hard time after those events - I incurred the anger of Korzhakov and Barsukov. Commissions were sent to Kalmykia, all of my businesses were closed.  
- What was the cause of anger?Takingout unarmed people? 
Of course not. The fact is that some members of the Supreme Council signed a letter in support of Yeltsin. And I did not. And it seems to me now, after 20 years, that I was right then. The approach to the development of the country proposed by the Supreme Council at least deserved attention. They were people with great professional and life experience: CEOs and former workers who climbed all the way up from worker to minister.
Not everyone liked what young reformers were doing, those so-called Chicago boys - laboratory assistants, who did not work at factory a single day. When I became President of Kalmykia, I suspended the Chubais privatization on 9 May, 1993. What did it provide? Just a total plunder of the country. Everything that the people have been creating for decades has been seized. Clever guys have bought it for vouchers, and now the state corporations are buying it back for billions of dollars.
I talked with Gaidar. Some say he was the greatest reformer. Yes, he was the reformer. But at what cost? How much suffering he brought to people! What for? Why did all have to suffer? Our country was rich enough; it only needed a small adjustment to make everything all right.
- In other words, at the heart of the conflict lay a different approach to privatization?
Of course! The economic component was, in my opinion, more damaging than the conflict of characters — Yeltsin, on the one hand, and Khasbulatov with Rutskoy, on the other. I supported Boris Nikolayevich; I respected and still respect him. He’s helped me so much in my life. However, there were intelligent people the Supreme Council as well.
Their programme was closer to the Chinese version. It provided for the state’s ownership of strategic sectors, in particular, defence and others. The remaining sectors were planned to be given to business, including small and medium sized enterprises. And they were shot for this programme. 20 years have passed, and now we are returning to what was rejected then...