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Western Press Review: Politics, Scandal, Confrontation in Russia

Prague, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "On second thought, cancel those bumper stickers," The Boston Globe's David Filipov quips today in a news analysis of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's latest comments on running for re-election.

Other Western press commentary examines politics, scandal. confrontation and other business as usual in Russia.

THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yeltsin could again reverse his decision

Filipov writes: "Just days after reversing himself and indicating that he was considering a third term in office, President Boris N. Yeltsin swerved back (yesterday), indicating that he will step aside when his current stint ends in 2000." The writer says: "Some observers said Thursday that Yeltsin could again reverse his decision not to run, especially if he felt that lame-duck status was hindering his ability to govern." And adds: "Yeltsin's suggestion last week that he might run came during what appeared at the time to be the buildup to a full-blown confrontation with the lower house of parliament over Yeltsin's 1998 budget proposal."

WASHINGTON POST: "I will not run for a third term," says Yeltsin

On the same topic, David Hoffman writes today that Yeltsin's first repudiation of re-election ambitions seemed spontaneous, was followed by Yeltsin-inspired new speculation, and now appears deliberately firm. Hoffman says: "The election is not until the year 2000, but the conjecture about Yeltsin's future has quickened lately because of the large field of contenders, their backers and political consultants, all of whom are jockeying in Russia's young democratic system with the election in mind. Yeltsin himself recently appeared to encourage the speculation about his future."

Hoffman writes: "Yeltsin announced a few weeks ago, while visiting a school, that he would not seek a third term. According to a high-ranking Kremlin official, the statement was off-the-cuff and caught many of Yeltsin's aides by surprise." He says: "The question became more heated because of the bitter feud among Russian business tycoons over a recent privatization sale. (But yesterday), he was firm on his arrival at the airport in France. 'I am saying it again, no, I will not run for a third term, or change the constitution for that.' "

BALTIMORE SUN: Under the Soviet system, anyone charged was destined to be found guilty

Kathy Lally referring to Yeltsin's corruption charges against the mayor of a small city said it was the first shot in an anti-corruption volley. She wrote: "Yeltsin launched an anti-corruption campaign by personally ordering an investigation into the affairs of the mayor of a small Siberian city. Most Russians assumed their president would get satisfaction. And they were right. Gennady Konyakhin, mayor of Leninsk-Kuznetsky, was arrested Wednesday in Moscow, 2,000 miles from his home, and charged with 'a major theft of state property committed by a group of persons upon collusion.' "

She said: "Yeltsin ordered an investigation of Konyakhin at the end of September after a Russian newspaper published articles in which the mayor was accused of ordering contract killings and enriching himself at city expense." She wrote: "Most Russians are confident that their government has not yet completely abandoned tradition. Under the Soviet system, anyone charged was destined to be found guilty, and charges were inevitable for anyone unlucky enough to hear accusations all the way from the Kremlin."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Yeltsin was cowed into signing a compromise

Ariel Cohen, a senior policy analyst in Russian and Eurasian studies at the U.S. policy institute, Heritage Foundation, commented this week on recent legislation that virtually establishes the Russian Orthodox Church as Russia's official religion. Ariel Cohen said the legislation is a disaster. He wrote: "Boris Yeltsin's signing of Soviet-style legislation that will drastically curb freedom of worship will plunge U.S.-Russian relations into yet another crisis -- in addition to the supply of nuclear and missile technology to Iran and Russia's resistance to NATO enlargement. (The U.S.) Congress will react sharply to Russia's trampling of religious freedom in Russia."

Cohen said that Yeltsin reversed himself. The commentator wrote: "This summer, Mr. Yeltsin vetoed the very same repressive legislation he signed Sept. 26. Mr. Yeltsin's veto caused such an outcry from the Russian Orthodox patriarchy that Mr. Yeltsin was cowed into signing a compromise that was very close to the original unconstitutional and shameful law the Duma's communists penned in July."

He said: "As currently worded, the bill will allow the government to discriminate against citizens of the Russian Federation solely on the basis of their religion by determining what is and is not appropriate as religious activity. It will also forbid foreigners to engage in religious activities in Russia. The legislation will allow government bureaucrats or even policemen to decide whether a church complies with its own creed and to close it down if state-appointed experts find that it does not."

BOSTON GLOBE: Western political and religious leaders have condemned Russia's rollback of civil liberties

David Filipov analyzed the same legislation saying it reverses some of Russia's recent human freedom gains. He wrote: "Western political and religious leaders have condemned Russia's new religion law, which breezed through parliament, as an unprecedented rollback of civil liberties and a violation of an article in the 1993 Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion."

Filipov said: "Advocates argue the law is needed to protect historically Russian faiths from the foreign religious groups that have begun operating freely since the fall of communism. They maintain that many Russians have become prisoners of cults, and warn of mass suicides and terrorist acts like those committed by extremist religious groups in the West and Japan."

He concluded: "Now that Yeltsin has signed the law, only the Constitutional Court can overturn it. The quickest way for a judicial review is for 90 legislators to sign a petition, and that seems unlikely. (And) Given the chaos surrounding the religion law, it is impossible to tell when that will happen."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The headlines predicting political crisis should be ignored

In an analysis today Steve Liesman writes that a blustery budget confrontation between Yeltsin and the communist-dominated lower house of parliament is mostly theater. Lies says: "It's budget season in Russia, a perennial time of political histrionics when talk of impending economic doom reaches a crescendo and the executive and the legislative branches threaten to put each other out of business.

"But if past performance is any sign of future events, the headlines predicting political crisis should be ignored and the (State Duma) will dutifully strike a compromise with the Kremlin -- but only after one or more budget rejections and no-confidence votes."