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Press Review: Russia Regroups

  • Don Hill



Prague, July 5 (RFE/RL) -- The tone of Western press comment on the Russian elections is upbeat, if cautionary. Commentators look back on the events of this week with uniform satisfaction, and ahead with varying degrees of concern.

In The New York Times today, Moscow Bureau Chief Michael Specter offers this analysis: "For the last six months, Russia has been a country seemingly at war with itself. There has been no fighting in the streets, but not one of the many candidates for the presidency could avoid mentioning the ominous possibility that the new Russia's first presidential election might end in civil war. And yet (yesterday) this half-year-long epic of political tension and Kremlin intrigue suddenly gave way to what is known in Russian history as a peredishka, a time-out. Hours after it became clear that President Boris Yeltsin had defeated his communist rival for the presidency, the prevailing mood was not national discord but reconciliation, good will, and a trace of self-congratulation."

The London Guardian says today in an editorial: "Boris Yeltsin is back by a margin which ovrnight appears to have vanquished all sorts of demons, and has even restored a degree of vitality to the victor himself. . . . If Mr. Yeltsin regains his health for sufficient time to function effectively, he has two immediate taks. The first is to cut down to size the very man he has only just elevated -- ex-general Alexander Lebed. . . . The second is to decide what to do about the substantial minority vote for Mr. Zyuganov, who arguments had already influenced the president's second-round platform."

An editorial today in the British newspaper Financial Times contends: "No one should begrudge President Boris Yeltsin his remarkable election victory in Russia. . . . He has won a famous victory. . . . Yet the path ahead still looks daunting. Even if a clear majority of Russians rejected the Communists, (Russians remain) divided about the sort of capitalism they want. Many voted for Boris Yeltsin without enthusiasm as the lesser of two evils. And a vary large minority voted Communist, in protest at what they perceive as deterioration in their lives."

David Hoffman writes in today's Washington Post: "The struggle for control of Russia moved (yesterday) from the ballot box to the back room. President Boris Yeltsin, having defeated the Communists at the polls, now faces an even more daunting task in managing the opportunities, and spoils, of victory. Yeltsin will be under pressure from all directions. . . . A contest for power and influence among his close allies already is materializing, pitting retired Lieutenant General. Aleksander Lebed, the no-nonsense security chief, against Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the stolid industrialist whom Yeltsin reappointed (yesterday). A major economic crisis caused by Yeltsin's campaign promises and his neglect of the budget is widely assumed to be coming soon, and the measures to cope with it could be painful and enormously disruptive when compared with Yeltsin's don't-worry-be-happy reelection drive."

Susan Sachs writes from Moscow in today's edition of the U.S. newspaper Newsday: "President Boris Yeltsin may have buried the Communist Party's challenger with his decisive election victory. But Russia's communists. . . are hardly dead as a political force. . . . If the communists and their nationalist allies can hold together -- and their common ambition makes it feasible -- they can give Yeltsin and his reform policies major headaches in the coming months. . . . Given the rigid nature of his party, (Gennady) Zyuganov has his work cut out for him in expanding his group's reach to those voters who might agree with his dark view of Russia's situation but resist a return to communist rule. Despite a revved-up campaign attack on government corruption and general lawlessness, for example, Zyuganov largely failed in his bid to pick up the law-and-order voters whose first choice had been the crime-busting retired Gen. Alexander Lebed."

The London Daily Telegraph today headlines its editorial "Russian roulette." The newspaper says: "The news from Moscow affords double cause for satisfaction. The first is that the presidential elections took place on time and were conducted fairly. . . . The second is that Boris Yeltsin beat his Communist challenger. . . . In dealing with the new government, the West should not be deflected from pursuing its own interests for fear of Russian atavism. The entrenching of democracy and the market economy should be supported, any move in the opposite direction condemned. NATO should be expanded. . . . Links with parts of the old Soviet empire, such as the Baltic states and Ukraine, should be strengthened. If that means a more prickly relationship with Moscow, so be it."

Columnist Flora Lewis writes in today's International Herald Tribune: "The bad guys lost. . . by direct, universal suffrage. It is a relief for most of the rest of the world. Even better, the first reaction from the losers was acceptance of the people's decision and willingness to play a peaceful, even cooperative role. . . . There remains the question of succession, and the reorganization of power. . . . At least, the firm precedent of popular, peaceful mandate has been established. Now Russian legitimacy comes from the ballot box -- a great achievement."

Writing from Moscow, Richard Boudreaux says today in the Los Angeles Times: "He ran a flawed campaign, blew a huge lead in the polls and was crushed in a landslide by an ailing, unpopular incumbent. In most countries, a loser like Gennady A. Zyuganov would be all washed up. But Russia's Communist Party boss emerged from defeat in a self-assured and statesmanlike mood (yesterday). . . . Zyuganov's performance at an evening news conference was notable not only for his assertiveness but also his conciliatory tone. More remarkable, he distanced himself further from the Communist Party that has shaped his life. He spoke . . . . as the leader of the People's Patriotic Bloc -- the communist-nationalist coalition put together for the election. . . . Zyuganov has good reasons to downplay the party of Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev. His non-Communist allies blame Zyuganov's defeat on his identification with the party. . . . Most Russians who voted communist are older people nostalgic for the Soviet welfare state, so the party appears doomed to die with them."
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