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Press Review: Can Boris Yeltsin Win A Re-election Bid?

By Stefanie Baker

Prague Jan. 23 (RFE/RL) Western newspapers are examining President Boris Yeltsin's chances of getting re-elected on June 16th. The commentaries follow Yeltsin's cabinet reshuffle and the military assault on Chechen separatist hostage-takers in Dagestan last week.

In an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal, George Melloan takes a pessimistic view of the recent appointment of Yevgeny Primakov to the post of Russian Foreign Minister. He writes: "Both in economic and political terms, Russia still is in the recovery room, trying to rid itself of the social poisons that spread through its bloodstream during 70 police-state years. Boris Yeltsin's elevation of ex-KGB spook Primakov to one of Russia's most important jobs is another of the all too many recent signs that the disease has not yet been cured." Melloan argues that Yeltsin is merely responding to the gains of former communists in last month's parliamentary elections. He says: "The Russian president's dubious strategy seems to be 'if you can't lick 'em, hire 'em.' Most likely, that will backfire, merely giving former communists more levers of power to use in trying to unseat Mr. Yeltsin." But Melloan contends that the success of the communists in the elections is not related to ideology. He writes: "The comeback of former party members in the former Soviet empire does not represent a yearning by voters for the type of government these people once managed. It simply reflects the fact that in the bloodless revolutions of those countries, these members of the dominant political class were never entirely dislodged."

In a commentary in today's London Times, Peter Reddaway says that Yeltsin is "ruling increasingly like a Tsar" who "relies on a coterie of associates." Reddaway doubts that Yeltsin will be able to pull off a victory in the presidential elections. For this reason, he argues: "The West should stop taking sides in Russia's internal politics. We have long been fostering anti-Westernism by aggressively supporting Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. (Viktor) Chernomyrdin in ways we would find highly offensive if they were practised in reverse." Reddaway says that western governments "should start to prepare seriously for dealing with a Russia increasingly run by communists and nationalists." He argues that the West should admit that the International Monetary Fund has failed in Russia. Reddaway writes: "Something is fundamentally wrong when the IMF is pumping into Russia billions of dollars in loans, but sums from twice to ten times as large are simultaneously leaving the country in capital flight." He concludes: "The West needs to rebuild its Russia policy from the bottom up."

Alex Alexiev, writing in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, disagrees that Yeltsin's chances of electoral victory are slim. In a commentary entitled "Yeltsin looking more like the comeback kid," he says the Russian president's "bold moves" have put him on a"center stage and in a position to retake the driver's seat." Alexiev argues that Yeltsin's shake-up of his administration places him "in the populist middle of the political spectrum," thereby allowing him to "siphon off as much momentum as possible from his communist and nationalist opponents." He maintains that Yeltsin is seeking " a new power base among an emerging Russian power elite that controls the country economically." Alexiev writes: "These 'red capitalists' would probably feel more comfortable and secure in a pseudo-democratic, mercantilist, banana republic-like oligarchy that protects them competition." He concludes: "Having secured such backing...Yeltsin has a better than even chance of prevailing in a multi-candidate presidential race."