Prague, April 8 (RFE/FL) - The changeable face of politics in Russia in the approach to June presidential elections attracts Western commentary.
New York Times political columnist William Safire contends in the newspaper today that the U.S. Clinton Administration may be foolishly concentrating its hopes on just one candidate, Boris Yeltsin. Underdog reformer Grigory Yavlinsky is an unlikely, but still possible, phoenix in this race, Safire argues. He writes: "Which candidate would most likely defeat the Communist? ...Yeltsin acolytes in (the U.S.) State Department snicker at reformers' chances. But when the youthful Yavlinsky, without benefit of government largesse or old-line Soviet cadres, can inspire 25,000 volunteers to deliver 3.5 million signatures, as he did last week; when he can attract Yelena Bonner Sakharov to his side; when unpaid teachers and doctors are on hunger strikes and anti-war sentiment runs silent and deep in villages resistant to the regime's monopoly TV - then perhaps some of us can be forgiven for not embracing the Clinton choice of a democratic champion. (Gennady) Zyuganov offers Russians a look backward to Communist tyranny. Yeltsin offers a look around at corruption and stagnation. Yavlinsky, unburdened by Yeltsin's negative baggage, offers a look ahead to free markets and democracy. "
In an analysis in the French daily le Monde, Francoise Lazare asked whether, "less than five years after explosion of the Soviet Union and the birth of new sovereign nations, the (democratizing) movement is already reversing itself?" She cited particularly "the electoral concerns of a Boris Yeltsin preoccupied by the popularity of his Communist rival, Gennnadi Zyuganov." Lazare also pointed to "dissarray (in a Russia) which is unable to face up to its own transition to a free-market economy and the jealousies created by the relative stabilication of the Russian economy." "Nostalgia for the Soviet empire," she concluded, "is great in people that are suffering from the (results of the economic transition), and the Commmunists continually and openly deplore the (end) of the Soviet Union."
Lee Hockstader wrote in The Washington Post yesterday: "Ten weeks before a presidential election that may determine whether Russia will finally bury its communist past or embrace it, Boris Yeltsin is stirring from his deep political coma.... He is also getting help from an unexpected source -- his Communist arch-rivals. The Communist presidential candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, also has launched an aggressive campaign and is considered the front-runner, but his party is suffering from internal divisions, political missteps and other problems, both of its own making and of Yeltsin's. While a month ago Yeltsin was struggling in third or fourth place in the polls and many doubted he had the physical stamina to run for president, today it seems clear that the race is a two-man contest between Yeltsin and Zyuganov."
The Cox newspaper group in the United States carried a weekend commentary by Marcia Kunstel, who wrote: "Yeltsin has won some plaudits for the blueprint he laid out last Sunday, mandating a partial ceasefire and expressing readiness to negotiate with Dzhokhar Dudayev, the rebel leader of the secessionist (Chechen) republic. But the president mostly has impressed the politicians and media already in his corner. The final assessment of the plan will lie in its results: will Russia mark enough change on the ground to win the trailing Yeltsin new support in the 10 weeks remaining till the June 16 election? ...Repercussions from the war roll far beyond the sorrow of families directly touched by 15 months of fighting. The war has come to symbolize a much deeper malaise than a simple civil conflict with a people, the Chechens, whom most Russians don't much like anyway.... Russians see their once grand army humbled by what the government dismisses as a band of terrorists.... The broken army of a splintered country cannot overpower a few thousand insurgents."
In the current issue of the U.S. news magazine Newsweek, Andrew Nagorski writes: " 'What if the communists win?' is now the focus of Moscow conversations. Zyuganov's party continues to send a militant message, most recently by orchestrating a parliamentary vote to annul the treaty that disbanded the Soviet Union." The writer says many Westerners think that Russian reforms have gone too far for the communists to reverse them. He adds, "Many Russians aren't so sure." Nagorski writes: "At a Moscow foreign exchange office last week, two biznesmeny discussed buying real estate. 'I hope you're not going to buy anything here,' one of them warned. 'Before June, it'd be crazy.' And what about after June?"
John-Thor Dahlburg wrote yesterday in the Los Angeles Times: "When the next page in the second Russian revolution is written, Sergei B. Stankevich, onetime adviser to President Boris N. Yeltsin, former deputy Moscow mayor and pioneering reformer, won't be around to contribute. No one, in fact, seems to know where the kid-faced Moscow politician is these days. Police would love to find out. Stankevich, once a champion of democracy and civil liberties, has been charged with graft and could wind up spending 15 years in prison.... His exit may have been hasty and inglorious, but Stankevich is hardly alone. Other radicals, democrats and reformers whose names became household words in Russia over the past decade have dropped out of public life, moved abroad, cashed in on their fame or functions, or experienced a seismic shift in convictions or loyalties. Meanwhile, Russian Communists have been reorganizing, and their candidate, Gennady A. Zyuganov, is now favored to beat Yeltsin in the June 16 presidential election."
The New York Times' Michael Specter wrote yesterday: "It has been a long time since President Boris N. Yeltsin has had a week this good. He started it last Sunday by announcing a peace plan for Chechnya and he ended it late Saturday afternoon, telling 2,000 core supporters, 'We will win in June so that Russia never again can be called an evil empire.' In between, he set off with a fistful of promises to Communist-dominated southern Russia and watched with delight as his once anemic ratings in opinion polls edged within striking distance of his main opponent in the presidential race, Gennady A. Zyuganov, the Communist leader."