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Russia: Yastrzhembsky Hails Denver Summit, Blasts Press Coverage

Moscow, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Press Secretary of Russia's President Boris Yeltsin has hailed the results of the Denver Summit of the Eight as a huge success for Russia and for Yeltsin - but blasted the Russian press coverage of the event. During a news briefing in Moscow yesterday Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who is also deputy head of the presidential administration, said the main result of the Denver Summit had been that Russia had become a member of the "Group of Eight."

In Denver, Yeltsin won strong endorsement of his policies from the leaders of the Group-of-Seven (G-7) industrialized nations. This year, for the first time, Russia - an invited guest at G-7 summits since 1991 - attended all but one of the discussions at the summit. For this reason, the meeting of the G-7 - which consists of the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada - was dubbed the Summit of the Eight.

Western officials have avoided saying that the group had, in effect, turned into a G-8. Instead, they have noted that the economic concessions won by Russia at the summit have enhanced Russia's claim for full membership of the group. U.S. President Bill Clinton said after the summit that Russia's role in Denver had reflected the strides the country had made in its transformation since the breakup of the USSR. And German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said one could debate whether Russia had been admitted fully or 90 percent, but that "the main reality, and a sensible one" was that Yeltsin was in Denver.

Yastrzhembsky said Russia's absence from one short talk on certain economic issues shows simply that Russia "still has to work on some economic and financial issues." He added that "this is Russia's own problem. We have to achieve quicky effective economic positions."

Western officials at the summit called the Russian economic picture encouraging, but noted that the country is still borrowing money from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They said they expect Russia to do more to reform its tax system, and clarify rules for foreign investors.

Russia's main achievement at the Denver summit was an invitation to join the Paris Club of creditor nations, which will allow it to obtain the repayment of some debts of allies of the former Soviet Union. The G-7 also pledged to support Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Yastrzhembsky expressed the hope that the admission of Russia to the Paris Club will soon have positive consequences for Russian businesses.

However, Yastrzhembsky complained about the coverage of the summit by a number of Russian media. He said that a general overview of the Russian media coverage of the summit could be summarized as "adequate," but blasted some media for what he called "their lack of understanding" of what, in effect, happened at the summit.

Yastrzhembky particularly referred to comments published by the influential "Kommersant daily." The newspaper wrote that "membership in the Group of Eight surely increases Russia's weight, but at the same time obliges it to withdraw partly from its independence in foreign policy." As an example, the newspaper cited Russia's support of a recent United Nations resolution threatening Iraq with further sanctions, and said this would not have happened, "if Russia had not joined the Group of Eight." Yastrzhembsky said closed talks on the issue had in fact taken place in Denver. But he said Yeltsin had made clear that Russia continues to oppose sanctions against Baghdad, accused by the international community of obstructing arms inspectors.

And in an unprecedent blast against the Russian media, Yastrzhembsky said he does "not know any other country in the world where the media act so coldly and incorrectly via-a-vis the achievement of its own government." According to Yastrzhembsky, the time has passed when journalists could approach with suspicion the government's activity. He said he wished Russian media would "support Russia's prestige...and act toward the consolidation of society," trying "to understand correctly" the position of its leadership and putting an end to what he called "nihilist behavior."

Yastrzhembsky's blast comes as many observers and Russian newspapers have accused the government, as well as business and financial lobbies close to the Russian government -- and, particularly to Anatoly Chubais, the First Deputy Prime Minister in charge of overseeing the media -- of trying to bring the Russian media under its tight control.

Last year's presidential election represented a turning point for the Russian media. During the pre-electoral campaign newspapers, magazines and television played a key role in boosting Yeltsin's ratings from single digits to his election victory against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. After the elections, media representatives said their full support of Yeltsin had been temporary and that they would assume again their position of objective observers of Russia's political life. But media are still seen as a strong tool of political consolidation, and Russia's main financial and industrial concerns are fiercely competing to buy media properties.