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Western Press Review: Russia Dithers

  • Don Hill



Prague, 9 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press on the frozen standstill yesterday of Russia's government reflects the predominant atmosphere in the Kremlin -- it's confused.

Some expected Yeltsin to renominate Chernomyrdin for a third, and fateful, time. Others said the hiatus signaled a search for an alternative candidate. Another said that nobody else wants the job. Whatever the outcome, Yeltsin is through, a commentator said. The Duma should develop the solution to Russia's chaos, said another. But, another said, the Communists who control the Duma don't have any good ideas themselves.

NEW YORK TIMES: The silence out of Yeltsin's headquarters underscored his dilemma

"The big news in Russia (yesterday) was what did not happen," Michael R. Gordon writes today from Moscow in a New York Times news analysis.

The writer says: "After the Communist-led parliament, in a stormy debate on Monday, again rejected President Boris Yeltsin's choice for prime minister, he did not rush to renominate Viktor Chernomyrdin. Instead, Yeltsin was holed up with his advisers at his residence just outside Moscow, pondering his hand. The silence out of Yeltsin's headquarters underscored his dilemma and nourished speculation that he was considering other candidates."

Gordon writes: "None of Yeltsin's choices are good."

DIE WELT: Yeltsin is leaving himself plenty of time

In the German newspaper, Die Welt, today, Manfred Quiring also contends, in an analysis from Moscow, that the Yeltsin silence a portent of a change of direction. Quiring writes: "The Russian parliament was awaiting with awe (yesterday) a letter from President Boris Yeltsin (and) this time Yeltsin is leaving himself plenty of time." The writer said: "This has fueled the hope on the opposition Communist benches that the calls for an alternative candidate might have borne fruit."

WASHINGTON POST: At least two said they did not want the job

The Washington Post's Daniel Williams writes from Moscow in a news analysis that part of Yeltsin's problem is that there aren't any eager candidates. Williams writes: "A Russia in the throes of economic disintegration waited in vain today for President Boris Yeltsin to nominate a new prime minister, as he left his previously designated candidate, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in limbo and the country in a political void."

The writer says: "Chernomyrdin was rejected for the second time Monday by the State Duma, Russia's lower legislative house, and lawmakers expected Yeltsin to send them a letter either re-nominating him or naming someone else. The letter never came."

Williams wrote: "There were meetings today but no decisions. Yeltsin met Chernomyrdin, but no re-nomination followed. Various parliamentary factions are in an anyone-but-Chernomyrdin mode and pressed Yeltsin to consider replacement candidates. At least two of those mentioned said they did not want the job."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Taking leadership could be fatal for political ambitions

In her own news analysis, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in Moscow, Vanora Bennett, names three men she says are among the reluctant candidates -- Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov, and Yegor S. Stroyev, chairman of the upper house of parliament. She writes: "Retreating for a day from Russia's political turmoil, President Boris N. Yeltsin refrained (yesterday) from naming a candidate for prime minister who must win approval from a defiant parliament."

Bennett says: "However, taking leadership of the Russian government at what most people believe is just the beginning of a long and painful crisis could be fatal for their political ambitions: All three hastily said they were not interested in the job."

BOSTON GLOBE: Wanted: Russian prime minister nominee

The Boston Globe's David Filipov composed a fictitious classified advertisement for a newspaper's employment section. It reads: "Wanted: Russian prime minister nominee. Job description: Save country from certain collapse. Applicant must be aging former Soviet Communist Party member. Relevant work experience a plus."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Boris Yeltsin's days are numbered

No matter what happens next, the British newspaper Financial Times opines in an editorial, the reign of Boris Yeltsin is effectively finished. The Financial Times says: "As president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin's days are numbered. If he does stagger on to the end of his normal tenure in 2000, as he insists, it will be as a shadow of his former self."

The newspaper concludes that Yeltsin may be forced, usefully, to trade away some of his power. It says: "One of the few positive aspects of the present crisis is that, so far at least, all parties are respecting the constitution. In order to persuade the Duma to accept any prime minister, Mr. Yeltsin may have to give away more of his sweeping powers. This would be no bad thing."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Luzhkov has a potential drawback

Thomas Avenarius, writing in a Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary, looks at one often-named potential prime-minister-nominee alternative to Chernomyrdin -- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Avenarius writes: "Most politicians try to coax and persuade voters, but Yuri Luzhkov amuses and charms Moscow's. So popular was one public relations gag that he literally brought it to market: his own perfume, 'Mer.' From 'maire,' of course, the French word for mayor. And despite Luzhkov's claim (yesterday) that he was not interested in the post of prime minister, should Viktor Chernomyrdin continue to prove unacceptable to parliament, few were likely to be convinced."

Luzhkov has a potential drawback, Avenarius suggests. The writer says: "Worrisome to many is the wily and ambitious Luzhkov's tendency to try winning over his angry compatriots far from Moscow by throwing a little oil on the fire of Russian chauvinism."

INDEPENDENT: More democracy, not less, is the beginning of the answer

The Independent of London editorializes today that the Duma, parliament's lower house that has, evidently successfully, vetoed Chernomyrdin might have to take on, itself, the role of saving Russia. The newspaper says: "As prices rocket and emergency supplies of oil, rice, and flour disappear from shops, Yeltsin appears still to misunderstand fundamentally the purpose of Russia's so-called democracy -- to create stability for its people and its economy. His stubbornness is having the opposite effect."

The Independent concludes: "Although constitutionally Yeltsin has the whip hand, the Duma's doubts about Chernomyrdin could not be better founded. In his previous stint as prime minister, he presided over six years of corruption and war. Russia may have no democratic culture, but it isn't going to develop one unless respect is accorded to its democratic institutions. Ignoring the Duma now would be to compound the economy's problems. More democracy, not less, is the beginning of the answer."

NEW YORK TIMES: It isn't clear to the Communists themselves what is to be done

But, in Moscow, Michael Wines writes in a commentary in The New York Times that the Duma's Communists don't appear to have any good ideas either. Wines writes: "These could be heady times indeed for Russia's post-Soviet Communists if only someone could say what a post-Soviet Communist was. The Communist Party that controls Russia's parliament used to crumple under President Boris Yeltsin's glare. Not now. This week, it holds ransom his choice of Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister, threatening to bring the government and perhaps the nation to their knees unless the party regains some of the power it squandered seven years ago."

"But beyond capturing power," Wines writes, "it isn't clear to the Communists themselves what is to be done."
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