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Western Press Review: Yeltsin And Clinton Head To Helsinki

By Patrick Whalen

Prague, 19 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Commentators in the Western press today set the stage for tomorrow's start of the summit in Helsinki between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Helsinki is the most important Clinton-Yeltsin summit

"This summit is likely to be the most important of the 11 Clinton-Yeltsin sessions held so far," writes William Neikirk in an analysis in the Chicago Tribune. "Clinton," Neikirk says, "will seek to break down Yeltsin's sharp opposition to NATO expansion with promises to expand Russia's role in the Western economic system and to refrain from putting nuclear weapons and troops into the new NATO countries, expected to be Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic."

Neikirk says "the main question will be whether the two leaders can find enough common ground and trust to give a political push to NATO's plan for a new Europe-wide security system encompassing old enemies." But, says Neikirk, "The prospect of a summit success appeared dim Tuesday after Yeltsin's declaration that he had made enough concessions to the United States" on NATO enlargement. But Neikirk notes that "such pre-summit pessimism has been expressed before, and agreements have been reached."

FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: A public spat with the U.S. could be sound domestic politics for Yeltsin

In an analysis, Chrystia Freeland and Bruce Clark write that the "convivial" atmosphere that has marked recent U.S.-Russia summits "threatens to be different" in Helsinki. "Leaving Helsinki with a formal disagreement over NATO could be embarrassing for the White House, which is eager to demonstrate to its more reluctant western European partners that the military alliance can grow without alienating Russia," they write "But for the Kremlin, a public spat with the U.S. could be sound domestic politics. Taking a tough line over NATO might insulate Mr. Yeltsin from the attacks of Russia's increasingly influential nationalist lobby. Boosting its patriotic credentials is particularly important for the Kremlin as it prepares to embark upon a series of unpopular economic reforms."

WASHINGTON POST: Some officials believe Russia is playing a weak hand

In today's edition, Thomas Lippman reports that Clinton's top foreign-policy advisers have "staked out hard-line positions" for Clinton ahead of Helsinki. Lippman quotes U.S. national security adviser Samuel Berger as saying that NATO enlargement "needs to proceed in a way that does not undercut the security of the Central Europeans, that does not create a second class of members of NATO (and) does not give the Russians a veto." Lippman then analyzes: "While these are longstanding U.S. policy objectives, stating them in such blunt fashion just before the summit appears to reflect the belief of some administration officials that Russia is playing a weak hand as it tries to extract the best terms it can get before reluctantly swallowing the bitter pill of NATO expansion."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin has confounded forecasts of his political demise

Also in the Post, Lee Hockstader and David Hoffman report from Moscow that Yeltsin will be heading to Helsinki after "being discounted for months as terminally sick and a political corpse." They say that Yeltsin "has stormed back into control of the Russian government with all the fire and fury of a man determined to have at least one more hurrah." They write: "For the umpteenth time in his stormy career, the Russian president has confounded nearly universal forecasts of his political demise" and appears to have rebounded "from heart disease, bypass surgery, double pneumonia and withering public attacks." The correspondents continue: "As evidence of their leader's surging fortunes, Russians will be treated Thursday to the televised spectacle of a relatively robust and ambulatory Yeltsin."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Corruption in Russia is Latin American

Anders Aslund, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, comments on the new Russian cabinet in an article in today's edition entitled "Russia Gets On Track To Be A Normal Country."

Aslund says that "the government structure has been fundamentally changed" by the appointment of Anatoly Chubais as first deputy prime minister. He writes: "Mr. Chubais brings with him some of the best and the brightest of Russia's economic reformers. They have gained valuable administrative experience. Russia now has the greatest chance since Yegor Gaidar's rule in 1992 to undertake far-reaching economic reform."

But Aslund also says the new cabinet must restrict corruption if the economy is to grow. Aslund describes the corruption in Russia as "Latin American," and says Russia has fallen behind countries such as Estonia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in implementing reforms.

NEW YORK TIMES: Chubais is not an easy man to categorize

The paper says in an editorial today that Yeltsin has displayed signs of a "renewed commitment to reform" with the appointments of Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, who also became a first deputy prime minister. "Chubais is not an easy man to categorize," says the Times. "He has been one of the fiercest advocates of political and economic reform, and probably the most skillful administrator in the Kremlin."

But the Times notes that Chubais was also responsible for Russia's privatization program -- a program, according to the newspaper, which was "so misshapen by corruption and favoritism that it left many Russians disgusted with their newly democratic government."

Of Nemtsov, the former governor of the Nizhni Novgorod region, the Times says: "Nemtsov now has the difficult task of trying to prevent pricing and allocation abuses by gas and electric monopolies. It will be interesting to see if he can overcome (Viktor) Chernomyrdin's inclination to protect Gazprom, the giant gas company that the prime minister once headed."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Russian people may draw the line at reforms

In an analysis, Chrystia Freeland and Martin Wolf say the new cabinet faces a host of pressing issues, among them tax reform, wage and pension arrears, deregulation, reform of the military, and restoring public confidence in the government administration. One question, they write, is "whether the agenda can be implemented. The most immediate threat is popular protest. Some observers fear that the Russian people, who have been extraordinarily tolerant of hyper-inflation and wildly unjust privatization, may draw the line at reforms that will slash their social welfare entitlements and raise their rents."

Freeland and Wolf conclude by saying that only Yeltsin "has the charisma and moral authority to persuade the Russian people to suffer just a bit more. The Kremlin leader is the only federal politician with the force of will to make the regional governors, the army and the monopoly bosses back down."