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Russian Communist Party's Economic Plan Still Hazy

Prague, May 23 (RFE/RL) - As Russia's presidential elections approach, there is still widespread confusion about the economic platform of the Communist Party's candidate, Gennady Zyuganov.

At a series of separate news conferences in Moscow this week, Zyuganov and his top economic advisors tried to clear up the confusion caused by the delayed publication of the Communist Party's economic plan.

Zyuganov told reporters yesterday that the economic program for his election could be made public by the end of the week. He gave few details, but said the platform would include plans to investigate major cases of privatization that appeared to be "illegal."

Zyuganov's colleagues were a little more specific. The Communist Party's top economic strategist, Yuri Maslyukov, said most privatization deals would n-o-t be cancelled, except those secured through what he termed "threats, bribery and money-laundering." He promised that the courts, not Zyuganov, would determine whether an enterprise had been privatized illegally. As he put it: "Our concept does not forsee any redistribution of property."

Maslyukov, a former head of the Soviet planning agency Gosplan, said he had "cured himself of any nostalgia for Gosplan." However, he went on to map out an economic strategy calling for some state control over the prices of fuel and other raw materials.

Maslyukov, who chairs the State Duma's economic committee, also outlined plans to stem the tide of foreign imports as a way of rescuing domestic industry and stimulating economic growth. He said trade barriers were needed to protect national industries and to halt the slide in production.

Another leading economic adviser to the communists, Tatiana Koryagina, unveiled highlights of Zyuganov's program, which is aimed at, in her words, "economic growth and growth of national well-being." She criticized the current government's policy of fighting inflation, saying it did nothing to stop the fall in production. She called for state support for the certain sectors, such as the nuclear industry, agriculture and high-tech firms.

Koryagina also criticized newspapers that have published what Communists claim are false descriptions of the party's plans for the Russian economy. The most recent report, by the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda last week, spoke of price freezes, re-nationalization of property, and restrictions on foreign travel to halt capital flight.

Both Maslyukov and Koryagina insisted that the Communist Party's vision of a "mixed" as opposed to a free market economy would protect private property. But correspondents say their sketchy economic blueprint did little to calm fears of a return to Soviet-era shortages and central planning.

The delayed publication of Zyuganov's economic platform has played into the hands of President Boris Yeltsin, who has portrayed his chief rival as a candidate who would return Russia to failed policies of central planning and political repression.

Yeltsin's economic adviser Alexander Livshits sought to capitalize on voters' fears by warning two days ago that some Russians are beginning to stockpile food in case of a Zyuganov victory. Livshits said if the Communists win, the economy could be sustained for only two months.

Zyuganov's often hazy economic vision is partly the result of his difficulties in forging an alliance of ideas between some 200 groups allied to the Communist Party. His task is not helped by talkative hardline colleagues, such as Viktor Anpilov, who heads the Working Russia Party. Anpilov recently caused a stir by calling for renationalization of banks and the closing of foreign exchange businesses to drive the U.S. dollar out of the Russian market.

Zyuganov tried this week to order his troops in line by urging his supporters to avoid using "scary words." He stressed that the message should be: "No one is about to confiscate anything, everything will be done according to law."

Many observers note that the Communist Party leader tends to tailor his message to his audience. At a gathering of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland in February, Zyuganov tried to persuade investors that the communists would bring economic stability and "order." But when he talks to domestic supporters, he tends to preach economic nationalism and employ anti-Western rhetoric.

Economic experts say there could an investment boom in Russia if Yeltsin is re-elected. Russian financial markets have indeed reacted favorably to recent opinion polls showing Yeltsin's growing popularity. But investors remain wary of the unknown factors that would accompany a possible Zyuganov presidency.