Prague, Feb. 15 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin is in his hometown of Ekaterinburg, known as Sverdlovsk in
Soviet times, where he is expected to announce today that he will run for reelection in June. Western commentators examine the state of Russian politics.
In an analysis in today's Washington Post, David Hoffman
writes: "President Boris Yeltsin... is already portraying himself as
the candidate of Russia's move toward democracy and free markets. But in the view of the early architects of those reforms, Yeltsin has all but ceased to be Russia's main agent of change.... The reality as
seen by reform advocates here... is that Russia's transformation has
been uneven, torturous and more often stimulated from below than led from above. The country is poised between authoritarianism and
democracy, between central planning and free markets. For many
reformers, the worrisome prospect is that the transition will stall
somewhere in this twilight zone, and the Communists are waiting in
the wings to reverse it."
"The time has arrived for a fundamental Western reassessment of President Boris Yeltsin, because he has abandoned everything that the West appreciated in him," Swedish economist and an adviser to the Russian government Anders Aslund writes in today's International Herald Tribune. Aslund, who is also a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says: "Instead of focusing on personalities, the West should do what it can to reinforce Russia's democratic and market economic institutions before the elections.... The West should stand by its values and call genocide in Chechnya by its true name and evoke the human rights provisions of the Helsinki accords."
Alan Philps writes today in Great Britain's The Daily Telegraph: "President Yeltsin arrived last night in his home city of Ekaterinburg.... The mood on the eve of his arrival was at best lukewarm, with many people dismissing him as a shadow of the energetic party boss remembered in... hungry days for securing scarce supplies of food and whipping lazy or corrupt officials into line.... For those who knew Mr. Yeltsin before he entered the distorting mirrors of Moscow politics 10 years ago, talk of Mr. Yeltsin's democratic convictions is nonsense."
In today's Financial Times of London, Chrystia Freeland writes: "Officially launching his reelection campaign in Ekaterinburg... would be the logical step in (Yeltsin's) attempt to transform himself from a reform capitalist into an ordinary guy concerned primarily with getting things done and improving the lot of the common man. The president's most serious challenger, Mr. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, is expected to launch his campaign for the Kremlin at a Communist conference in Moscow today. Mr. Zyuganov, who ironically never climbed as high as Mr. Yeltsin in
the party pecking order of the old regime, is widely perceived as a
lackluster personality, lacking Mr. Yeltsin's charisma, political
guile, and control over the machinery of state. But Mr. Zyuganov is
not haunted by the ghosts of the unloved nouveaux riches and he is
happy to blame Mr. Yeltsin for the painful transition to a new
Today's International Herald Tribune carries a commentary by
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Friedman writes: "A
couple of jokes being told by Russian delegates at last week's Davos
(Switzerland) economic forum bear repeating. One was - What is the
difference between an optimist and a pessimist in Russia today?
Answer: A pessimist believes that things in Russia can't possibly get
any worse. An optimist believes that they can. Count me an optimist
about Russia. And that is because of the second joke - Russians know
that their next president is going to be a communist. They just don't
know whether his name will be Boris Yeltsin, Gennady Zyuganov,
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, or Grigory Yavlinsky."
David Hearst comments today in the British Guardian: "Gennady Zyuganov today will be nominated as the presidential candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.... It will be more anointment than vote. As matters stand now, Zyuganov is the man most likely to become Russia's next president when the
country votes in June.... But the path ahead remains slippery.
Yeltsin... has many tricks up his sleeve.... Zyuganov knows the
battle is only beginning."
In a separate commentary in The Guardian today, Hearst
contends: "Ekaterinburg is not a communist city, but nor is it
willing to toe Moscow's line. In elections last December, the city
voted for a party started by its governor, Eduard Rossell, a man who
began as a copy of Mr. Yeltsin but developed into a powerful regional
leader threatening to set up a separatist Urals republic. Reform has
done no favors to the city's huge military-industrial factories."
Great Britain's The Independent carries a commentary today by Phil Reeves. Writing from Ekaterinburg, Reeves says: "Mr. Yeltsin... is expected today to announce plans to run..., in spite of his recent heart attacks, his advancing years, and low popularity ratings. But the city where he grew up and studied can no longer be depended on to deliver the 90 percent vote that helped propel him into the president's suite. Like the rest of Russia outside Moscow, it was long ago embittered by broken promises and post-Soviet economic decline.... None of this bodes well for the president and his team."
In the New York Times yesterday, Michael R. Gordon discussed a troublesome free-press issue arising from the heated political
environment in Moscow. He wrote: "In an election-year skirmish
between President Boris Yeltsin and the press, the government has
barred Russia's most prominent independent television network from the Kremlin, the network's editors said on Tuesday.... Yeltsin's
press spokesman, Sergei Medvedev, denied on Tuesday that he had
ordered the Kremlin off limits to the network and charged that the
station was seeking publicity to boost its ratings. Soon after Medvedev spoke, the network told its viewers that the government was making it difficult for the station to cover Yeltsin's upcoming trip
to Ekaterinburg.... With a presidential election coming up in June
and Yeltsin's poll ratings dismally low, television has become
increasingly vital for influencing public opinion."