In its most direct challenge yet to the authority of President Boris Yeltsin, Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to denounce the 1991 accord that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The resolution has no legal significance because the Parliament is weak and the president - who called the legislation “nonsense” - has the ability to prevent its wishes from becoming law.
Nonetheless, the measure, which passed by a vote of 250-98 in the Communist-dominated lower house of Parliament, increased fears about what will happen if the Communist leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, becomes president this summer.
“The possible internal and international consequences of this decision could be of an unpredictable and explosive nature,” said Sergei Medvedev, Yeltsin’s press secretary.
Yeltsin himself, who is trailing Zyuganov in all polls, went even further. “We have summoned the ambassadors from the former Soviet states,” Yeltsin said, clearly angry, in a televised address on Friday evening. “We have asked them to tell their leaders that this resolution is nonsense and nothing will come of it.”
In a strict sense he appeared to be right - the Soviet Union is unlikely to be reconstituted. Even if the Communists returned to power and sought to restore the union, there would be little support for the notion.
Some former republics, most notably Belarus but also Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, are often mentioned as the most likely candidates for a new alliance with Russia.
Each country has a large Russian minority, and in the case of Belarus many political leaders there have often stated that a new link with Russia is inevitable.
Most other republics have a starkly different view of their independence. In the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia - whose drive for freedom in the 1980s was instrumental in breaking the Soviet Union apart - the resolution was met with derision, but also with worry.
“This is not a comfortable thought,” said a spokeswoman for the Estonian foreign ministry. “It shows a constant yearning for the past.”
The vote was purely political theater, with a telling point.
The measure’s passage was one more sign of the frustration that lawmakers feel at presiding over a country that is no longer great and has enormous economic and political problems.