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Press Review: Commentators Dissect Coming Russian Runoff

  • Don Hill

Prague, June 25 (RFE/RL) -- The ever-tightening tangle of Russian politics ensnares the attention of Western press commentators as the July 3 runoff approaches. The latest twist is a call by the Communists' leader for post-election formation of a coalition government.

Phil Reeves writes today from Moscow in the British newspaper, The Independent: "Just over a week before his fate will be decided, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov yesterday (offered) to form a Russian coalition goverment of 'national trust.' . . . On the surface, his move is yet another attempt to widen his vote amid growing evidence that he cannot recruit enough support. . . . His new role is that of a compromising peace-maker in a land riven by conflict and instability."

In The Washington Post today, Moscow correspondent David Hoffman writes: "Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov launched an apparent last-ditch effort to broaden his political base yesterday. . . . Zyuganov outlined a vague proposal that if elected he would first call for the signing of a 'pact of national accord' among Russia's warring political interests. Then, he said, he would create a council made up of many political, economic, religious and ethnic forces that would create a coalition government. . . . Zyuganov's proposal was the latest signal from the Communists that they are worried about their inability to expand their constituency, which is essential if they are to defeat Yeltsin."

The Wall Street Journal Europe caries today an analysis from Moscow by Claudia Rosett. She writes: "With chances dimming for a Communist victory in Russia's presidential election, Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov is focusing his tactics less on beating President Boris Yeltsin than on trying to join him in government after the vote."

The foreign staff of The London Times today says in an analysis: "Russia's Communist Party leader. . . , short of ideas ahead of the runoff of the presidentital election against President Yeltsin on July 3, yesterday proposed a 'pact of national accord' that would include members of the present government. . . . The exercise smacked of desperation from a candidate who has to make up a lot of ground."

New York Times Moscow bureau chief Michael Specter writes today in the newspaper: "Although the leaders of Russia's Communist Party still say they have a chance to win next week's presidential election, they already have begun to portray their candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, as a man who stands to gain as much in defeat as he would in victory. . . . To some degree, (Zyuganov's coalition proposal) and the strategy that goes with it are simply exercises in political spin control, a reach for broader appeal by a party in trouble."

In the Los Angeles Times, Carol J. Williams says today: "In these do-or-die days of political horse-trading ahead of the July 3 presidential runoff, Communist challenger Gennady A. Zyuganov appears to have gone out of business. He has no plans to hit the hustings (campaign among the people) or blanket the airwaves with any fresh message, and yesterday the underdog candidate proposed a power-sharing arrangement with his opponent, President Boris N. Yeltsin, that was met with either silence or rejection."

Western commentary looks into maneuvering by the Yeltsin side also, especially recent high-level changes in his government. The Neue Zurcher Zeitung says today in a commentary: "In his first days in office as (the Yeltsin administration's) head of security, (retired General Aleksander) Lebed is not short on promises. Commitments to fight corruption, cut down bureaucracy, and end the war in Chechnya are only a few. . . However, consistency is not in Lebed's vocabulary. . . . Without well-established ideas and beliefs, one can no longer succeed in Russian politics. . . . With the Chechen fight, Lebed can set a good political ground for himself. This is necessary for his success because after the July 3 election his stock will dramatically drop."

The U.S. newspaper Newsday carries a commentary today by special correspondent Dmitri K. Simes. Simes is president of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. He writes: "The dismissals of First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, and security chiefs General Mikhail Barsukov and Lieutenant General Alexander Korzhakov are more than a dramatic purge of hard-liners from the Russian government. The departing officials were Russian President Boris Yeltsin's closest lieutenants and were essential to his leadership style."

Simes says, "In Russia's fragile and uncertain democracy, it was not only Yeltsin's enormous constitutional prerogative but also the unquestioned obedience of the military and security services that assured his hold on power. The Russian president cannot count on similar, automatic support from the winners in his Cabinet reshuffle, Security Council Secretary Lt. Gen. Aleksander Lebed and campaign organizer Anatoly Chubais."

Simes concludes: "On one level, the hard-liners' defeat is welcome news. Soskovets was consistently a major brake on reform in the Russian Cabinet. Grachev, Barsukov and Korzhakov were known as the architects of the disastrous Russian war in Chechnya, and their commitment to Yeltsin the man was always stronger than their commitment to democratic principles. . . . Nevertheless, it is unnerving -- to say the least -- when elections in a major nuclear power are accompanied by such abrupt political earthquakes and by the tremendous uncertainty generated by rumors of plots and counterplots."

In addition, some press commentary concerns the nearly total eclipse of once-powerful Mikhail Gorbachov. The New York Times said yesterday in an "Editorial Notebook" article by Philip Taubman: "Almost lost in the Russian election results was the epilogue to one of the great political rivalries of our time. Boris Yeltsin finished first in a field of 10 candidates last week with 35 percent of the vote, Mikhail Gorbachev finished seventh with less than 1 percent. . . . It seems a cruel irony that the two men who lifted Russia from tyranny could not lift themselves above personal enmity. But had they not collided, Russia might not be free."

And Hal Piper writes in today's Baltimore Sun: "And in seventh place, with half a percent of the vote -- Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Seventh place? Half a percent? Gorbachev has become an Unperson -- just like all those people who were written out of history by Josef Stalin's purges."