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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Bomb May Turn Out To Be Firecracker


By Don Hill, Esther Pan and Dora Slaba



Prague, 25 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- There's an expression in English used when the story line (plot) in a drama becomes complicated. A critic will say, "The plot thickens." In Russia, where President Boris Yeltsin seemed Monday to be casting out his entire government, the plot yesterday thinned. Western press commentary ranges today from amused to confused.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: First they're out. Then they're in. Go figure.

Here's how Wall Street Journal Europe Moscow reporter Steve Liesman puts it in a news analysis: "First they're out. Then they're in. Go figure. Just a day after President Boris Yeltsin shocked Russia by sacking his entire government, it became clear that he would likely reappoint most of the ministers -- and that the bulk of his economic reform team, including liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, would probably remain in place."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin shows he is still the boss

The entire scheme may be merely Yeltsin flexing muscles to show his strength, commentator Josef Riedmiller writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Riedmiller says: "Just as he was being described as 'President Oblomov,' the symbol of Russian do-nothings, by the British publication The Economist,' Boris Yeltsin rose from his sickbed and showed he is still boss in the Kremlin." The columnist writes: "Now Yeltsin has his hands full trying to form a new government out of the remains of the old one. Through his past makeovers he has already used up most of those suitable and willing to serve in the cabinet, and he apparently does not (at least not yet) want to go to the ranks of the Communists and nationalists; foreign policy considerations rule that out."

LE SOIR: Yeltsin's act not coup d'tat, but coup de thtre

Le Soir from Belgium says the Yeltsin act was less a coup than it was a performance. Pol Mathil comments: "It was not a coup d'tat. Russia is already too far removed from Bolshevism to imagine a return to the time when the regime changed in that way. But it was a real coup de thtre." He writes: "It was also a conscious retreat planned in advance. Yeltsin wants, in effect, to disarm several time bombs planted by the Communists: a dangerous vote of confidence in the Duma and a huge demonstration of unions at the beginning of April." Mathil says: "The spectacular nature of (this) is easy to explain. Confronted with doubts about his capacity to lead Russia, Yeltsin showed who is the big boss. The earthquake yesterday thus constituted an aftershock to speculations about his health and the president's determination to guard his position."

LONDON TIMES: Clearer picture of Russian government emerges

Writing from Moscow in The Times of London, Robin Lodge says he perceives greater clarity in the muddle. He writes: "A clearer picture of the future Russian government was beginning to emerge yesterday after President Yeltsin's dramatic dismissal of his entire administration on Monday, with the indication that most ministers would keep their jobs. But there was still no announcement of a new prime minister. The only certain victims of Mr. Yeltsin's cull were Viktor Chernomyrdin, the outgoing prime minister, who is to concentrate on political work with his pro-government faction, Our Home Is Russia, and Anatoly Chubais and Anatoly Kulikov, first deputy prime minister and interior minister respectively, both of whom were sacked by separate presidential decrees."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Observers differ on Yeltsin move

Frankfurt's Allgemeine Zeitung takes an "on the one hand -- on the other hand" tack in an editorial. It says: "Political observers and the press delivered very disparate evaluations of Yeltsin's surprising measure (yesterday). Whereas some saw in the firing of the cabinet a dispossessing of Chernomyrdin's power, other saw in it a chance for the former prime minister to position himself for the presidential elections in the year 2000."

INDEPENDENT: Kiriyenko glides to top job at 35

For The Independent in London, Phil Reeves and Helen Womack concentrate on Yeltsin's acting Prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko. The writers say: "Kiriyenko looks like the genuine article, an earnest technocrat who has quietly, cleanly and calculatedly glided up the ladder into one of the top jobs at the age of 35. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Kiriyenko is a blip on the screen, or will make a larger impression in Russia's history. He has been asked to name a cabinet in a week, although Mr. Yeltsin will have the final say. His appointment is subject to the approval of the State Duma, whose powerful Communist faction already in grumbling."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Improvised decision was actually well prepared

The Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, Milan, editorializes that Yeltin's apparent spontaneity was misleading. The newspaper says: "The new Russian government will be formed within one week under the interim prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko. Then, in a few days, or at most by Easter, President Boris Yeltsin will send the name of a new head of government to parliament. And then we'll see what procedure the Kremlin adopts to resolve the crisis begun Monday with Yeltsin's announced firing of all his executives. It was a decision which officially was under consideration for a long time, but actually appeared completely improvised."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: New prime minister must bridge divide between two Russias

Alan Philps, writing from Moscow in the Daily Telegraph, London, says there's another Russia far from the Kremlin's conspiracies that needs to be considered. He writes: "After the turmoil in the Russian government has died down, the task of the new prime minister will be to try to bridge the divide between the two Russias. The first Russia is that of the provinces, where money is scarce or nonexistent, where salaries are not paid on time, where businesses settle their debts with IOUs and where army officers and their families live four to a room."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin move inspires opposed interpretations

A writer for the British newspaper Financial Times examines the multicolored spectrum of analyses that the week's developments are projecting and perceives a lesson. Chrystia Freeland writes: "It is, perhaps, a measure of Mr. Yeltsin's genius as a political tactician that, with a single set of decrees, he has succeeded in inspiring such diametrically opposed interpretations. Tactically, it has worked: Mr. Yeltsin is in unquestioned charge. For longer-term stability, the overthrow of the government looks worrying. As UCB Capital, a Moscow investment bank, warned, 'for months to come, there can be no guarantee that we will not wake up on another Monday morning to the news that Yeltsin, prompted by his confidants, has not turned over the table once more. One of Mr. Yeltsin's favorite gambits is a two-step revolution, in which he swiftly follows one dramatic measure with a second bold move changing the original, dire, expectations. It is still possible that Mr. Yeltsin plans to do that now, replacing the current confusion with a clearly articulated political agenda and strong team that governs on the basis of something more solid than the caprices of the president. It is possible. But it is also possible that Mr. Yeltsin is increasing his authority so that he can seek to manipulate the constitutional ban on a third term and run again. If he has no clear vision for Russia's future beyond securing his own grasp on power he will become little more than a despot, and an elderly, easily manipulated one at that. Russia has had enough of those."
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