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Press Review: Russian Spring Warmed by Foreign Money

  • Don Hill

Prague, April 30 (RFE/RL) - Press attention turns toward Russia as the interrnational financial community agrees to a $40-billion debt-relief package - with strings attached; and domestic electioneering warms up on the way to the June 16 presidential election date.

"Western nations, in a dramatic step to stave off a return of communism in Russia, signed the biggest and most generous debt-relief package ever (yesterday)," Steve Liesman reports in today's Wall Street Journal Europe. Liesman's analysis continues: "The agreement is a key part of Western attempts to assist President Boris Yeltsin in his campaign against the Communist Party.... The accord also provides Western nations with some sway over Russian economic policy if Mr. Yeltsin should lose the election.... The deal is to be reviewed quarterly during the first year."

Writing from Moscow today in Britain's Financial Times, John Thornhill comments "Paris Club officials (representing creditor nations) warned (that) the rescheduling was dependent on Russia continuing to pursue economic reform and maintaining an accord with the IMF.... If Mr. Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate who is leading most opinion polls, assumed office, he would now find it extremely expensive to abandon economic reform and risk losing billions of dollars of Western financial support.... The main thrust of the Russian government's economic reform program is now likely to shift to much-needed microeconomic reforms."

In the British newspaper The Independent, Europe Editor Tony Barber writes today: "The agreements are a breakthrough because they should eliminate the need for future rescheduling of Russian debt and reduce uncertainty about Moscow's ability to repay its loans. They should also allow the Kremlin to concentrate on continuing Russia's transformation into a market economy and ease Russia's access to world capital markets."

On the Russian presidential campaign, Michael R. Gordon writes today in The New York Times: "In a bid to compete with the rebounding re-election campaign of President Boris Yeltsin, two major rival candidates, a Harvard-trained economist (Grigory Yavlinsky) and a nationalist general (Aleksandr Lebed), said (yesterday) that they were negotiating an improbable political alliance..... On the face of it, an alliance that could mobilize supporters of economic reform and conservatives who crave the restoration of national order and pride would seem formidable.... From the start, Yeltsin's plan was to define the election as a referendum on communism and to present himself as the only politically practical alternative. Increasingly, his strategy seems to be paying off."

In an article by Joe Klein, the current issue of the American magazine Newsweek says: "Suddenly, Boris is back and Boris is everywhere. He is out in southern Russia, stumping the countryside. He is back in Moscow, greeting an obeisant array of international leaders who sing his praises and sign meaningless agreements.... He sits next to Bill Clinton and brazenly, and inaccurately, announces that the Americans have promised they won't expand NATO without his approval. He seems healthy and vigorous. He seems sober. Most important, he seems a president (none of his opponents does).... The election is likely to be close enough to steal.... Everyone expects widespread vote buying and ballot stuffing. No one discounts the possibility that Yeltsin will cancel or void the election if his prospects seem less than certain."

Claudia Rosett says in today's Wall Street Journal Europe that the tenacious Chechen war is complicating the Russian election drive. She writes: "Since Russian President Boris Yetsin tried to bolster his reelection chances by promising last month to make peace with Chechnya, the main change is that Russian authorities are finding it hard to keep track of whether the Chechen rebel leaders they want to negotiate with are alive or dead.... The chaos in the region is feeding fears... that Chechen fighters may launch fresh terrorist attacks, both in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia. That could prove a further drag on Mr. Yeltsin's tight race."

The New York Times said Sunday in an editorial: "Boris Yeltsin knows his reelection hopes depend greatly on ending the war, and the Chechen resistance surely must realize that further warfare can only compound the misery of the Chechen people.... Yeltsin keeps declaring that Russian forces are suspending combat when it is plainly evident they are still bombing Chechen villages. He did so again last weekend at a news conference with President Clinton.... The rewards of intransigence are all too visible in the destroyed lives and villages of Chechnya and the grave sites of Russian soldiers who died in a war they did not understand. Yeltsin should silence Russia's guns, and the Chechen fighters should accept the large degree of independence he now offers them and return home to heal their families."

In an editorial yesterday, The Washington Post said: "It almost seemed like old times in Beijing last week as Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin railed jointly against 'hegemonism, power politics and repeated imposition of pressures on other countries' - against U.S. pushiness, in other words.... In their talk of a 'strategic partnership,' one could almost hear a new axis grinding into place. But that would be inflating this Sino-Russian summit with greater portent than it deserves.... That election-bound Yeltsin would embrace President Clinton and then immediately play the China card should come neither as a surprise nor as an affront. In the post-Cold-War, multipolar world, nations will defend their interests in complex and shifting combinations. The United States, by far the strongest player in this new game, should continue to engage the giants of Asia and Eurasia as deeply as possible, not hesitating to stand up for its own interests when that is called for."

Author Michael Lind, whose book 'Up from Conservatism" is to be published in the United States soon by The Free Press, contributes the following commentary today to The Washington Post: "(A) resurgence of Russophobia in America has several sources .... The passage by the communist-dominated Moscow legislature of a non-binding resolution declaring the dissolution of the Soviet Union illegal has set off alarms, as has the prospect that the communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov might succeed Boris Yeltsin as Russia's president. While these are troubling developments, they must be kept in perspective.... In the next few years, either Clinton or Bob Dole will be faced with the choice of trying to integrate Russia on equal terms into a trans-Atlantic security framework, or ensuring a second cold war by rewarding the cooperation and reform of today's imperfect but improving Russian democracy with encirclement and humiliation. If the chorus of anti-Russian voices in Washington prevails, then the wrong choice will be made."