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Press Review: Hints of Election Delay in Russia Capture Western Notice

  • Don Hill

Prague, May 6 (RFE/RL) - The Russian chief of state security, Lieutenant General Alesandr Korzhakov urged yesterday that Russia's presidential election, set for June 16, be postponed. Korzhakov's remarks in separate interviews with Russia's Interfax news agency and with the British newspaper Observer drew widespread alarmed commentary in the Western Press.

Michael Specter writes today in The New York Times: "Lending disturbing credence to the darkest suspicions of many Russians, President Boris Yeltsin's closest confidant called (today) for a postponement of the presidential election.... In saying that the country was not yet ready for the election, Korzhakov said he was speaking as a private citizen, 'as is my right.' Yeltsin has so far shown no indication that he agrees with his closest associate. But as a barometer of the tense state of Russia's democracy and because Korzhakov has unrivaled access to the president, the comments sent shudders through the country.... A postponement would cause serious trouble for Yeltsin in his relationships with Western leaders. The oft-stated policy of the United States is that Russia's second presidential election must go forward to prove that the country is a mature democracy that respects the rights of its citizens to decide their future."

In an analysis in The London Times today, Richard Beeston says: "Russia's presidential election campaign was thrown into confusion last night after one of President Yeltsin's most shadowy and powerful advisers called for the poll to be scrapped.... While emphasizing that his opinion was personal, General Korzhakov hinted strongly that he was speaking for the powerful state scecurity apparatus and advised politicians to pay attention."

David Filipov, writing today in The Boston Globe, said: "Korzhakov (is) a hawkish former KGB officer who is an influential adviser and confidant of the president.... Yeltsin, campaigning hard to catch up to Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov in the polls, has adamantly insisted that the June 16 vote will go ahead as planned....Yeltsin's press secretary, Sergei Medvedev, reacted with surprise (and) Korzhakov's remarks were also dismissed by the chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission."

In an earlier article in The Boston Globe, Filipov wrote: "Fearing that a Communist return to power would jeopardize market reforms, businesses are putting off plans to invest billions of dollars in Russia until after the June presidential elections. The delay reflects investors' new-found doubts about the Communist presidential candidate, Gennady Zyuganov..., and provides a measure of just how important the vote is for Russia's future. At stake is an estimated $5 billion in direct private investment for 1996 alone."

Writing from Moscow, The Observer's Victoria Clark analyzes the Korzhakov development (F810). She says: "Something was not quite right. President Boris Yeltsin was surrounded by bodyguards wielding umbrellas as he climbed into his Zil limousine after a brief stop at the new Second World War memorial church on May Day morning last Wednesday. But his shadow, chief bodyguard Lieutenant General Alexander Korzhakov was nowhere to hand.... That most elusive and sinister member of Yeltsin's closest entourage was heading off alone past the grey splashing fountains in the opposite direction to Yeltsin's calvalcade, his blazer tails flapping.... While Yeltsin sped away on his campaigning business -- gamely shaking a leg with a group of folk dancers, flashing smiles and pressing flesh -- Korzhakov seemed pleased to be waylaid by the Observer, and to put a bomb under his master's brave efforts to get reelected."

Richard Boudreaux writes today in The Los Angeles Times: "The advice by... Korzhakov was the first time a Kremlin official publicly urged Yeltsin, Russia's first freely elected leader, to take undemocratic steps to prevent a Communist return to power. Korzhakov made his appeal in separate interviews with Russia's Interfax news agency and the Observer, a British newspaper, after one of the busiest weeks of political intrigue since Yeltsin entered the race February 15 as an underdog behind the Communist Party leader, Gennady A. Zyuganov.... But Korzhakov is one of the two men closest to Yeltsin, and his advice has carried the day on matters ranging from oil export policy to the Kremlin's decision to declare war on separatists in Chechnya. Few in Moscow believe he would make such a statement, even one cast as a personal opinion, without a go-ahead from the boss."

The British newspaper, The Independent, carries today this analysis by Phil Reeves in Moscow: "(Korzhakov's) remarks follow speculation that the elections may be called off.... There is no doubt many in the Yeltsin administratiion fear defeat, as they would lose jobs and face prosecution for illegally cashing in on (privatization). But postponing the election without the agreement of the communists would be a huge risk."

Kathy Lally wrote yesterday in The Baltimore Sun: "A red flag waves over downtown Smolensk, just off the square where an enormous Lenin statue stands proud and unbowed. A few freshly painted hammers and sickles dot the city. The Communists are visible and vigorous here, and methodically preparing themselves for a return to power. While the nation's democrats have squabbled, sniped..., and splintered into competing factions, the Communists have been steadfastly regrouping. Calling on the organizational skills honed during 70 years of strict party discipline, Communists have been knocking on doors and lining up votes... Smolensk, 250 miles west of Moscow, is the most Russian of cities, where the soft evening light turns a graceful 12th century church a rosy pink and a fortress built by Ivan the Terrible's son embraces the hillsides. It's also the most Soviet of cities."

"A split in the Kremlin has emerged over President Yeltsin's reelection strategy," Alan Philps writes today from Moscow in Britain's The Daily Telegraph. Philps says: "General Korzhakov, who used to be Mr. Yeltsin's bodyguard and tennis partner, has undoubted influence over the president, but he seems to be one of many conflicting voices."

The Chicago Tribune's James P. Gallagher writes today from Moscow: "For the second consecutive day..., Yeltsin failed to show at scheduled campaign appearances (yesterday), while one of his most powerful aides urged cancellation of next month's pivotal presidential elections.... Yeltsin's failure to appear in public since Friday fueled speculation that dramatic developments might be afoot. Yeltsin... was heckled by Zyuganov supporters during a campaign visit to Yaroslavl on Friday. It was billed as the first stop in a whirlwind tour of 16 provincial cities that now appears to be in doubt.... He canceled a Saturday visit to Vladimir, another Communist stronghold, then failed to appear (yesterday) at Moscow celebrations honoring the Russian Navy. However, Yeltsin did spend two hours (yesterday) meeting with liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, one of several minor candidates who are stripping away potential votes from the president."