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Western Press Review: Boris Bounces Back

  • Don Hill

Prague, 7 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Like a playroom punchbag doll, Boris Yeltsin has bounced back still again. Whatever the Russian president's speech to parliament may have done in Russia yesterday, it captured the -- mostly admiring -- attention of press commentators in the West today.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin does not have much time to achieve his reforms

"After an eight-month delay, Boris Yeltsin has begun his second term as Russia's president," Miriam Neubert comments in today's paper.

She says: "He nevertheless gave a gloomy assessment of the country's situation in a speech to both houses of parliament. But he did announce important reforms, and he does not have much time to achieve them. The last two years on the way to reform have been wasted, first by the war in Chechnya, and then the elections." She adds: "Still on his must-do list are military and social reform. So far they have gone nowhere, blocked by a combination of bureaucratic resistance, a lack of clear thinking, and an even greater lack of political will. Further deadlock is something Russia cannot afford."

NEW YORK TIMES: Russians want measured, fair, well-managed reform

The paper says today in an editorial: "Boris Yeltsin yesterday gave Russians a measure of the leadership they yearn for, candidly describing his country's economic hardships and the failures of his own administration. Now he must take the decisive actions necessary to stabilize the economy and give the nation an effective, honest government."

The newspaper says: "But Mr. Yeltsin, never particularly skilled at managing the machinery of government, cannot remedy the problems with tough rhetoric alone. Having declared his good intentions, he needs to get down to the hard business of constructing a new tax system that offers simplified laws and aggressive collection. There is no more urgent need in Russia."

It concludes: "Russians made clear in last year's election that they support reform, but they want it to be measured, fair and well managed. Now that he is back at work, Mr. Yeltsin should not underestimate the challenge. It may prove more difficult than turning back a coup."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Yeltsin has scarcely been in office due to his health problems

Writing from Moscow in today's issue of the U.S. newspaper, staff correspondent Peter Ford says: "After eight months on the political sidelines with health problems, Yeltsin used his televised speech in the marble-walled and grandly chandeliered Kremlin auditorium to impress upon the nation that he is back in control."

Ford writes: "Yeltsin's 22-minute speech capped a week of efforts to underline that he is back on the job. Each evening, the television news has shown him dressing down one senior government official after another for failing in their duties. He pursued this theme again yesterday." The writer concludes: "Since his election last July, though, Yeltsin has scarcely been into the office because of his health problems. Only now will his determination to get a grip on a government widely seen as aimless and ineffectual be tested."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Yeltsin can distance himself from his government's sorry record

The paper headlines its editorial today: "Yeltsin vs. Yeltsin". The newspaper says: "His extended retreat from public life turns out to have been convenient. It has allowed Boris Yeltsin to distance himself from his own government's sorry record."

The editorial says: "How Mr. Yeltsin proposed to fix all this may become clearer following a promised cabinet reshuffle."

ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITITION: Yeltsin will turn to Western, free-market reform

In today's paper, Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright write from Moscow: "Like a bear awakening in spring to find his forest home in ashes, President Boris Yeltsin emerged from eight months of seclusion (yesterday) and angrily accused his own government of sabotaging Russia through incompetence and corruption."

They write: "Yeltsin promised to plug the holes for diversion of public monies, to reduce dramatically government bureaucracy and to shuffle his cabinet. Rather than return to communist solutions to tamp social distress washing across the country -- including a huge backlog of unpaid wages and pensions -- Yeltsin will turn his revised cabinet squarely toward Western free-market reform, according to accounts leaked to government-controlled media."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Those who have grown rich will resist reform

John Thornhill and Chrystia Freeland take a tack today in the British newspaper like that of the "Suddeutsche Zeitung." They write: "Two hundred and forty-six days after he was reelected Russian president, Mr. Boris Yeltsin began his second term in earnest yesterday." The writers said: "Mr. Yeltsin has promised crackdowns on corruption and sweeping government changes before -- to little avail. His challenge to reinvent Russia's government will be resisted by many of the sectoral interests that have grown rich from the market deficiencies associated with his half-hearted reforms."

NEWSDAY: Yeltsin looked and sounded like a man in charge

The U.S. newspaper carries an analysis today by Susan Sachs in Moscow. She writes: "Flashing a bit of the old scrappy populism largely missing from his public persona for years, Yeltsin added his own jab. (He said), 'The executive branch has turned out to be incapable of working without the president shouting at it.' "

Sachs wrote: "Although it contained no bombshells, no basic change of policy and a familiar litany of gripes about Russia's failure to meet its basic pension and wage obligations, the feisty address accomplished a major goal. (President) Yeltsin looked and sounded like a man in charge."

WASHINGTON POST: Chubais is one of Russia's few skilled, Western-oriented civil servants

Moscow correspondent David Hoffman writes today: "Yeltsin said he would make high-level government changes, and it has been reported widely that (today) he will name reformer Anatoly Chubais, his current chief of staff, as deputy prime minister. The appointment would put Chubais back in day-to-day management of the economy and government under Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chubais held the same post before he was dismissed by Yeltsin in January 1996. Chubais (is) deeply disliked as a symbol of the inequities of privatization in the early years of post-Soviet reforms, which enriched some and embittered millions. But he is also regarded by the liberal elite as one of Russia's few skilled, Western-oriented civil servants."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yeltsin will oppose efforts to alter the presidency's constitutional standing

Vanora Bennett writes today: "His speech also put to rest, at least for now, recent attempts by his political opponents in Russia to change the constitution so legislators, by a vote, could find the president unfit to govern. Yeltsin, whose term ends in the year 2000, told lawmakers bluntly that he would oppose their efforts to alter the presidency's constitutional standing."