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Press Review: The Race To Run Russia

Prague, Feb. 16 (Rfe/Rl) - A broad spectrum of the Western press examines the likely effects of the second ever democratic campaign for Russia's presidency. One U.S. newspaper called yesterday's events in Moscow and Ekaterinburg the start of 'the race to run Russia.

In an analysis in today's The Wall Street Journal Europe, Claudia Rosett and Steve Liesman write: "President Boris Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov both declared their candidacies for Russia's presidential election this June. The two top contenders in a diverse field, Yeltsin and Zyuganov already are battling for a vote that will deliver a verdict on democratic market reform. Yeltsin says Russia's half-achieved reforms must go forward. The communists promise to turn many of them back."

Today's Suddeutsche Zeitung says in an editorial signed by Thomas Urban: "On the big day, (Yeltsin) was in poor form. His voice was hoarse and the impression he made was of lacking concentration, dynamism and determination.... He promised a swift end to the war in Chechnya, and... said that the Chechen separatist leaders headed by former Soviet general Dzhokhar Dudayev must be shot. Strong words of this kind are unlikely to bring peace to the restless region.... It is still far too early to write Yeltsin off after his poor start.... A majority of Russians might feel that -- compared with the counter-candidates from the communist and nationalist ranks -- Yeltsin is the lesser evil. "

Michael R. Gordon contends in an analysis today in The New York Times: "(Yeltsin's) declaration amounted to the formal opening of a campaign that, according to every measure of public opinion, could well bring back to power the Communists Yeltsin ousted five years ago. (He) told supporters that he alone could head off a communist victory and continue Russia's political and economic reforms. He also promised a solution within months to the unpopular war in Chechnya, without suggesting what it might be. Even as Yeltsin spoke, the Communists were lampooning him as a weak rival and celebrating the nomination of their standard bearer, Gennady Zyuganov, at their party congress in Moscow."

In Great Britain's The Guardian, David Hearst writes today from Ekaterinburg: "President Boris Yeltsin threw open the coffers of state spending in a wild day of populist promises... He promised to pay the entire national backlog of unpaid wages next month, amounting to (the equivalent of 2.75 billion U.S. dollars), or about a third of the loan Russia hopes to receive shortly from the International Monetary Fund."

"The race to run Russia Began (yesterday) with a promise from (Yeltsin) to correct 'mistakes' in his economic reform drive and a vow from his Communist challenger to rescue Russia from 'extinction'," Susan Sachs comments today in the U.S. newspaper Newsday. She writes: "Campaign battle lines were clearly drawn. Yeltsin, facing down his plunging popularity and doubts about his health to announce his candidacy, portrayed the June 16 elections as a contest between past and future, between illusion and memory.... As Yeltsin was reminding his audience of the repression and hardship of the Communist era, a conference of neo-Communists in Moscow launched its own candidate, Russian Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov."

In the British newspaper The Guardian today, Alan Philps comments: "The president, trailing in the opinion polls behind the communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, is making another of the high-risk moves that propelled him from provincial party boss to Kremlin chief in five years.... He promised to ease the burden of reforms on the old and the weak and restore savings that had been wiped out by inflation.... While Mr. Yeltsin put on a good performance with his scripted speech, his asides and comments to reporters betrayed his old wildness and a tendency to bully."

Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright write in an analysis distributed today by the U.S. Cox newspaper group: "In a polemic-spiked treatise published last October, Zyuganov charged that for centuries the West 'has pumped into its belly natural resources and cheap colonial labor forces, new territories and spheres of influence, goods, money, ideas and brains....' Is this the same Zyuganov who charmed the American Chamber of Commerce of Russia last fall with friendly quips on the need for continued -- albeit slower -- reform? The same man who this month glad-handed pre-eminent Western capitalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, assuring them that a communist-ruled Russia would protect their investments...? "

Germany's Die Welt newspaper comments today in an editorial signed by Martin S. Lambeck: "Helmut Kohl's official visit to Moscow has been on the cards since last year, but it suits Boris Yeltsin down to the ground that the German chancellor will not be arriving at the Kremlin until Monday. Denials notwithstanding, Chancellor Kohl on his three-day visit will be intervening in the early days of the Russian presidential election campaign. Kohl agrees with U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac on the need to help Yeltsin by all legal means."

New York Times Columnist Flora Lewis writes in the newspaper today: "The tone of the presidential campaign in Russia practically requires a harsh attitude toward the United States, with the adamant assertion that Russia is and will remain a great power. And all the signs are that the stance of nationalistic grievance will get worse, not ease off, after the election.... NATO has become the symbolic focus of growing strains in East-West relations. Moscow takes the decision eventually to expand NATO into Central Europe as a threatening, even hostile act. It has not abandoned the idea of diluting the Western alliance."

In the Los Angeles Times today, Richard Boudreaux comments: "The huge red flags and portraits of Lenin were missing, but the event had some hallmarks of a Soviet-era party congress -- Speeches were dull and sounded alike, the vote with pink party cards was unanimous, and aging comrades in ill-fitting suits doddered home after singing the Internationale. But Russia is no longer a one-party state. The Communists, having fought back from near-oblivion to become this aspiring democracy's strongest political force, chose party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov as their presidential candidate (yesterday) in an uncertain mood that hovered between that of front runner and (thatof) underdog."