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Press Review: Kremlin Intrique, the U.S. and Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Prague, June 21 (nca/) - Western press commentary today centers on the impact of yesterday's decision by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to fire three of his top aides and the U.S. announcement that it will not support U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his bid to serve a second term. Yeltsin fired General Alexander Korzhakov, head of the presidential bodyguard, General Mikhail Barsukov, head of the Federal Security Service, and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets.

David Hearst writes a news analysis today in the London Guardian that the three fired men "became obstacles to General Alexander Lebed (who had been named earlier this week as the head of Yeltsin's national security council). Their sacking makes Gen. Lebed, after Mr. Yeltsin, the most powerful man in the country. . . . The clash of the titans was inevitable. It took four days to unfold, and when it happened Gen. Lebed emerged the victor. He has now had a clean sweep. . . . He has the power to appoint his men to all the key security posts. This is awesome power to be put in the hands of a young, ambitious two-star reservist general."

An editorial in today's Financial Times says that within a "couple of days of his (Lebed's) appointment as head of the Security Council, the balance of power in the Kremlin has tilted. The advantage has gone - for the moment at least - to the liberal camp which believes that democratic procedures rather than brute force are the best way to keeping President Boris Yeltsin in office."

The Wall Street Journal Europe carries a news analysis that says: "The president's move, although sudden, fits in neatly with his strategy to win the run-off. Mr. Yeltsin's dismissal of the hard-liners could help him secure the votes of the third- and fourth-place finishers in Sunday's election. In addition, it may presage a more reform-minded government should he win."

Mathias Brueggmann, writing a commentary today in Die Welt, says: " . . . with the country at a crossroads, he (Yeltsin) has taken a decision which hardly anyone had thought him capable of. He sacked his closest allies of many years, his confidants, advisers and - if one chooses to believe well-informed Kremlin sources - in so doing freed himself from those who already ruled over him." Brueggmann concludes: "(Yeltsin campaign aide and former privatization minister Anatoly) Chubais could thus be right when he says that their dismissal is 'the last nail in the coffin of Russian communism,' the sword and shield of which the KGB has always been and still is, 'the last nail in the coffin of the illusion of a military coup d'etat in Russia.' The men of the KGB will do all they can to prevent this from happening and continue to ensure that there is unrest."

Michael Specter writes a news analysis today in the New York Times. Specter says: "Five years ago he (Yeltsin) faced down a coup from the top of a tank. On Thursday (yesterday) the tanks were gone but the decision he made to banish his closest aides from the Kremlin was almost as dramatic. Nobody has his ability to act decisively at critical moments in Russian politics. Whether he is standing on a tank, choosing as his first campaign stop the heart of the Communist countryside, or dismissing his best friend to appear as a savior of democracy, Yeltsin's instinct for political theater rarely fails him. The man knows how to make the big gesture. . . . On Thursday, confronted with a turning point for the struggling nation, Yeltsin seemed to have chosen sides once again: This time he chose democracy, openness and reform."

Phil Reeves comments today in the London Independent on the firings. He writes: "The arrival in the Kremlin of this gravel-voiced retired soldier (Lebed), like some sort of avenging Robocop, is critical to yesterday's events. His ascension to power was orchestrated by the President's advisers, who covertly supported his election campaign in which he attracted 11 million votes. But his sudden rise, coupled with his vow to wipe out corruption, has disturbed the delicate, fetid, biological balance within the Kremlin. . . . The key question now is whether the episode harms Mr. Yeltsin or helps him. His campaign message is that he represents stability and normality. Such upheavals create the opposite impression."

The London Times writes today in an editorial that: "Mr. Yeltsin has broken the last links with reaction. If he wins, it will now be at the head of a new and much more solidly reformist team. The choice is now crystalline - and that should encourage the high turn-out that Mr. Yeltsin needs to win. . . . But for the West and above all for Russia itself, the skies have lightened this week in the East."

A.M. Rosenthal comments today in the New York Times on the U.S. announcement that it will not support U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for a second term. The U.S. says it wants a more reform-minded candidate to serve. Rosenthal writes: "The U.S. decision to veto the re-election of the secretary general of the United Nations tells us a lot about the Clinton administration - all bad - and nothing true about Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the talented and brave Egyptian diplomat Washington is trying to eliminate. . . . The administration threatens veto for fear that the Republican onslaught against the United Nations with him as its Satan-figure, might win some know-nothing votes. Even as front-runner, Clinton was too flabby to resist the Republican attack. The U.S. excuse: A new budget broom is needed. Come off it. Boutros-Ghali was as good an administrator when the United States voted for him as his five predecessors, which is not very. But Washington knows that in five years in office he made reforms and pared budgets more - when allowed - than all his predecessors put together did in 45 years."

The London Guardian says today in an editorial: " . . . Washington's announcement that it will veto Ghali if he stands for reelection is arrogant and improper. It preempts a process of informal discussion and canvassing of names which in the past has taken several months. . . . Mr. Boutros-Ghali has not been a brilliant Secretary General and several better candidates have already been mentioned. But the criticisms levelled against him by the U.S. address the wrong targets. Efforts have been made to tackle U.N. bureaucracy and overspending. . . . The Secretary General has suffered most of all - and the U.N. even more so - by the general down-grading of its reputation and role since the beginning of this decade."

An editorial today in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung contends: "Many in the United States view the United Nations as an organization that represents the embodiment of waste and misdirected international involvement. In Congress, where multilateralism is viewed as 'un-American,' the mistrust of the U.N. has reached levels of political paranoia. The Americans hold U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali responsible for the U.N. mission from Somalia to the Balkans and for lack of reform. . . . Many European countries, especially developing countries, will vote for him. Besides, no other worthy candidate is in view."