YELTSIN'S rule had been established with surprising ease over most of the empire, but nowhere had it been consolidated and as the months drew on chaos became worse. The railways scarcely moved, industry was grinding to a standstill, the towns were very hungry. Everything was in a turmoil. . . The Russian Parliament. . . gave a large majority to other parties, but Yeltsin dismissed this Parliament at once. It may be doubted whether the Parliament would have thrown up leaders capable of ruling Russia in thoseturbulent times, but Yeltsin gave it no chance to try. . .'' These two quotations are from A History of Russia by John Lawrence (first published in 1957), from the chapter dealing with the forced dissolution by the Bolsheviks of the semi-democratically elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918. I simply took the liberty of substituting ''Russian Parliament'' for ''Constituent Assembly'' and, sacrilegiously enough, Yeltsin for ''Communists'' (or Bolsheviks). It won't be a revelation to say that the tumultuous events in Russia in the past couple of weeks have a painful semblance to the political turmoil of early 1918. We all know what it led up to: the civil war. At a first glance, it seems bizarre that President Boris Yeltsin, having proclaimed himself an ardent anti-Communist, chose to deal with the opposition in exactly the same way as the Bolsheviks did in 1918. Yet, on the other hand, if we review his thriving 20-year long career as a top-ranking Communist Party apparatchik, this similarity will start to look much less surprising. There was one small, yet significant, development in Russia last week that was hardly noticed by the western media. According to Radio Liberty, on the third day of the White House confrontation, the besieged parliamentarians were approached by a compromise-seeking envoy from Mr Yeltsin's camp who, on behalf of the President, asked them to surrender in exchange for hundreds of senior executive positions in Yeltsin-controlled provinces and 52 ambassadorial posts. The deputies allegedly refused, but the very fact of such an offer shows that both conflicting sides, if to throw aside purely political differences, still understand each other pretty well. Indeed, both Mr Yeltsin's supporters and the rebellious deputies in their majority have one and the same background - a totalitarian system, where personal power, and nothing but personal power, mattered. Power meant money, frequent trips abroad, access to exclusive feeding troughs and heaps of other lucrative things; whereas lack of power was equal to total deprivation, in which the broad masses were invariably kept. As a vitriolic Russian (or rather Soviet) proverb goes: ''I am a boss - you are a fool, you are a boss - I am a fool!'' Similar to the Bolshevik revolt of October, 1917, the ongoing confrontation at the White House walls has very little to do with ideology. It is but pure power-mongering, with both sides haggling over their countryside dachas and black limousines. When Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi fell out of Mr Yeltsin's grace some time ago, what was his punishment? On Mr Yeltsin's orders, he was deprived of his Zil sedan! (In response, already in the capacity of the self-proclaimed Russian President last week, Mr Rutskoi called Mr Yeltsin ''svoloch'' - more than a simply unparliamentary Russian term of abuse of which ''bastard'' is far too mild an equivalent.) When the same fate befell the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin, his dacha was immediately taken away. All these squabbles could be dismissed as some vicious games of over-age boys that never grow up, had the stakes in this game not been so incredibly high and had the playground itself not been stuffed with nuclear weapons, which, unlike, cars and limos, are very dangerous toys indeed. Whatever the West might think, the last week's dissolution of the elected parliament, the same ''hardline'' legislative body that only two year ago chose Mr Yeltsin as its chairman, was illegal and unconstitutional by any standards. The acting Russian Constitution might be far from perfect, but at the moment it was the only one available. Violence leads to nothing but further violence, and one act of lawlessness necessarily leads to more lawlessness. There was no better way of turning parliamentarians into martyrs and of boosting their popular image than to try and starve them into submission, cut their communications and electricity supplies and surround the White House by the dare-devils of the OMON, the same special purpose unit which was used by the putschists to intimidate the White House defenders in August, 1991. All these are clearly the acts of an authoritarian ruler rather than a champion of democracy. Let's face it: the Hobson's choice for Russia at the moment is not between democracy and return to communism, but between the half-heartedly nationalistic, pseudo social-democratic rule of Mr Rutskoi and Mr Yeltsin's neo-Bolshevik dictatorship. That is why the West should not be in a hurry to take sides, thus repeating its numerous mistakes of the not-so-distant past. The most recent example is Georgia, where Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a not very likable character, but nevertheless the elected President of the republic, was forcibly removed from his post by Eduard Shevardnadze, whom the West gave its full support. This triggered an unseen wave of ethnic conflict and violence which eventually devastated the country, disgraced Shevardnadze, and (hopefully) deeply embarrassed his many friends in the western capitals. What if something similar happens in Russia? Remembering the events of 1918, we can assume that the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (which was also far from perfect and full of Bolsheviks, for that matter) ushered in the whole epoch of lawlessness and tyranny. Gruesome analogies do not end here. The next step of the Bolsheviks after dispersing the Assembly was to crack down on the dissenting press. Treading in their steps, after dissolving the Parliament, Mr Yeltsin closed several opposition papers, including the mildly nationalistic Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and established firm control over state radio and television which, as some western observers note, became pro-Yeltsin ad nauseum. To Western reporters' consternation and disappointment, all is quiet in Moscow, and life seems to continue as normal. But let us not be duped by this seeming calm. ''The Petrograd trams continued their race, already under socialism,'' this was how Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky described the first moments after the 1917 coup d'etat, when the Winter Palace was taken over by a handful of Bolsheviks. It was a quick and an almost bloodless take-over. According to many eyewitness accounts, the pedestrians in the streets adjacent to the Palace Square, had no inkling of what was going on. And there, within an earshot, the cruellest and the bloodiest epoch in human history was quietly started. Russia these days is living through her most dangerous political crisis since 1917. Let's cross our fingers. . . Vitali Vitaliev is a columnist with The European.