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Analysis From Washington -- Problems Await the Winner

  • Paul Goble

Washington, July 4 (RFE/RL) -- If, as seems likely, Boris Yeltsin wins reelection as president of the Russian Federation, he may quickly find that governing will be even more stressful than campaigning has been.

Among the most pressing problems he will face are dealing with the newly assertive Aleksandr Lebed and the formation of a new government, coping with a looming economic and fiscal crisis, and responding to some potentially explosive foreign policy issues.

The Russian constitution requires the man elected this time to form a new government and have it approved by the Duma. Yeltsin now will have to do that, and he faces a number of serious hurdles.

If he names a reformer as prime minister, the Russian president may have a difficult time winning parliamentary approval and might even be forced to dismiss this Duma and call for new elections.

If on the other hand, he names someone who is more acceptable to the current Duma, that individual would likely pursue a less reformist course than has the current premier, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Either course could easily upset the coalition of forces around him -- particularly his relations with Lebed. Moreover, each could frighten off the foreign investors Yeltsin has said he hopes to attract, in the first case by continuing uncertainty; in the second by postponing needed reforms.

And either course could prompt some extremists around Gennady Zyuganov -- such as the radical Viktor Anpilov -- to complicate Yeltsin's life through the organization of some kind of demonstration.

Adding to his difficulties is an increasingly serious economic situation. The Russian economy is in bad shape. Many workers have not been paid for months. Life expectancy for Russian men continues to fall. And pensioners are often in desperate straits.

During the campaign, Yeltsin made so many promises to alleviate the situation that even his aides say they do not know how much all of them might cost. More seriously and in an obvious effort to win votes, Yeltsin made the government's fiscal situation considerably worse.

On the one hand, he already passed out a variety of expensive goodies to win over voters. On the other hand, he allowed firms to avoid paying taxes so that they could pay their often unhappy workers. Together, these steps have led to an escalating budget deficit. Unless that gap is closed and closed quickly, such a deficit could reignite inflation and frighten off the international banking community.

Adding to these economic problems will be the continuing drain of resources caused by the war in Chechnya and by what is projected to be a bad harvest not only in Russia but in Ukraine, a traditional source of food for Russian cities. As a result, food prices are likely to rise, shortages to occur, and the Russian government be forced to purchase grain on the world market.

If these and other domestic problems were not enough, Yeltsin will also have to contend and quite quickly at that with a daunting variety of foreign policy problems: the question of NATO expansion, the situation in Bosnia, and differences with the U.S. on the selection of a new United Nations secretary general.

Yeltsin has staked out general positions on each of these. But if he is to have a successful second term, he will have to be able to fill in the details. And that will be no easier than his task on the domestic front.