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Press Review: Politics And Human Rights In Russia

Prague, Jan. 30 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today looks at political events and human rights issues in Russia.

Britain's Guardian today says that western officials are finding it increasingly difficult to discern Moscow's intentions for economic reform following Russian President Boris Yeltsin's recent cabinet changes. Correspondent Martin Walker observes that "Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is visiting Washington to woo U.S. President Bill Clinton with promises that reform will continue." But, he says, Chernomyrdin spoke of continuing reforms "with certain changes." Walker concludes that the "Chernomyrdin visit...has brought back Cold War memories of an inscrutable Kremlin whose intentions in domestic and foreign policy baffle and divide western analysts, despite a free press and open debates on policy in the (legislature)."

A news analysis piece in France's Le Figaro today says that Washington has doubts about Yeltsin, but will continue to back him for lack of any alternative. Stephane Marchand writes that "the Clinton administration is willing to bend its definition of reformer so that it still fits (the Russian president.)" He writes that Clinton has invested a lot in Boris Yeltsin but that "after briefly dreaming about a radiant democratic and capitalist future for Russia, the United States has tempered its ambitions." Marchand concludes that "Washington's primary concern now is to have a militarily stable Russia which does not throw itself into foreign adventures."

Irina de Chikoff writes in a news analysis in today's Le Figaro that Yeltsin is entering the presidential election season when his popularity is "at its lowest, his opposition has never beeen so radical, and liberals have definitively abandoned him." But she says that Yeltsin himself has rarely appeared in such good humor." Chikoff says Yeltsin "is convinced that at the last moment the Russians will turn their backs on the totalitarian past they have suffered" and again support him. She observes that "Yeltsin loves to gamble" and that he has said previously that no-one should confuse 'the speed of changes and their objectives with the strategies and tactics dictated by events'."

A commentary by Sergei Kovalev in the Washington Post today sharply criticizesYeltsin for what Kovalev calls rejecting "democratic values and principles." The comment is adapted from a letter of resignation sent last week to Yeltsin by Kovalev, who had been chairman of the president's Human Rights Commission since 1993. Kovalev says that in recent years Yeltsin has "at first slowly and then more and more abruptly changed the course of government policy." Addressing Yeltsin, Kovalev writes: "You began your democratic career as a forceful and energetic crusader against official deceit, but you are ending it as the obedient executor of the will of the power-seekers in your entourage."

France's Le Monde says today that "Moscow does not seem ready to respect the principles of the Council of Europe" despite Russia's admission into the organization last week. Correspondent Jean-Baptiste Naudet writes that: "Russia's political leaders congratulated themselves on Russia's entry into the council, but Kremlin officials seem in no hurry to respond" to its basic requirements such as ending arrests without trial and improving prison conditions. Naudet says that the Kremlin's position on human rights is best expressed in the words of an official of the interiory ministry who told western journalists last week: "When we get funding (for improving conditions), we can start thinking about (human rights) reforms."