Washington, 21 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - To hear Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov tell it, the only real difference between him and the present government of Boris Yeltsin is a management style.
Zyuganov spoke for an hour and a half Thursday with a large group of American business leaders in a Washington forum sponsored by the U.S.-Russian Business Council. For a western listener who did not know Zyuganov's party affiliation, the assumption would have been that he was a capitalist or at least a businessman.
"Today, my country is in a very difficult situation," began Zyuganov, and the real problem is the "lack of managerial skills at the highest levels" in Moscow.
Whether President Boris Yeltsin got good advice or bad, said Zyuganov, he made all the wrong choices. "Even when he was healthy and sober, he couldn't find any good solutions to any of the problems the country is experiencing," said Zyuganov. What was called reform was "very costly -- we have 20 million people out of work, 15 million people starving and six million refugees."
The Communist party would like to go to the negotiating table to "restore the management" of the country, introduce "certain amendments to the Constitution" and "bring back the status of the elected officials," specifically Duma members, to make sure the government follows the laws that are passed, Zyuganov said.
The party would recognize "all forms of ownership -- it doesn't matter which one," he said. "State ownership, joint stock ownership, private ownership and foreign ownership for many enterprises."
He said it would set out to reform the tax system, "so it would be beneficial for a person to work hard and not drink and steal." And of "utmost importance," Zyuganov said, would be "creating a good investment climate through suppressing corruption" to help make "those who invest in Russia feel comfortable and allow them to use their profits the way they please."
Zyuganov said he has met with major business leaders and investors in the U.S., Germany and other western countries and he understands that "without the due legislative framework and securing (the businessman's) personal freedom, there will be no massive investment in Russia."
Zyuganov said he and the other Communist members of the Duma are "quite confident we can be working in this direction and we will create the conditions for American business to work in the Russian markets, in cooperation which will be beneficial for both."
The American business people kept asking, however, what kind of laws affecting business would a Communist-led Russia adopt. While not going into specifics, Zyuganov said they had already proposed budgets that would create a better economic situation, tax laws that would be lower and fairer, and a raft of proposals on other economic and financial conditions, but that all had been rejected by Yeltsin.
One American businessman observed afterward that it was a very different Zyuganov from the one seen during the presidential campaign last year. "You'd hardly recognize who he is," said the businessman.
But Zyuganov, while underlining the importance to Russia of help and cooperation from western nations and international institutions, didn't want anyone to think it is a country to be pushed around.
He outlined his objections to the expansion of NATO, calling it the "major historic mistake" of the post-World War Two period. Then he said that cooperation with Russia now may be very useful in the future. "Russia will get out of the situation it is in right now and I remind everyone that Russia has 30 percent of the world's energy sources and half its water and land, which is going to be very beneficial for sustainable development in the next century," he said.
Zyuganov has already visited Boston and New York and after a busy day in Washington today travels to Houston, Texas on the week-end before returning to Moscow.