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Western Press Review: Did Yeltsin Boost Kiriyenko's Chances?

By Don Hill and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 8 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin invited 20 leading politicians to the Kremlin yesterday to advance the case for confirmation of prime minister-nominee Sergei Kiriyenko. He either cajoled or bullied them, either to no effect or with great success -- depending upon which Western press commentary you follow.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Communists and Liberals still firmly opposed

The British Financial Times' Moscow writer, John Thornhill, uses the word "browbeat" in an analysis today to describe Yeltsin's tactic, which, he says, failed to move his critics on the left. Thornhill writes: "The Communist Party and the liberal Yabloko bloc are still firmly opposed to Mr. Kiriyenko's candidacy and have urged Mr. Yeltsin to suggest an alternative."

NEW YORK TIMES: Back-room negotiating goes on after roundtable meeting

Michael Gordon of The New York Times, in his analysis, calls the meeting mere "political theater" but predicts success, even though at a cost. Gordon says today: "The much ballyhooed political round table took place in the ornate St. Catherine Hall." The writer says: "The meeting itself was something less than definitive. After the two-hour session ended, the back-room negotiating over the Kiriyenko nomination went on."

Gordon quotes Yevgeny Volk, the director of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, as expressing "the dominant view in Moscow that Yeltsin would ultimately succeed in winning parliamentary approval of Kiriyenko's appointment." Gordon adds: "Indeed, the key question increasingly appears to be not whether Kiriyenko will be approved but what the cost will be in terms of symbolic or substantive concessions by Yeltsin in new appointments or programs."

WASHINGTON POST: Opposition representatives balk

"Hard sell" is what The Washington Post's Daniel Williams calls it in an analysis from Moscow. "But opposition representatives balked," he writes, adding that the outcome is uncertain. Williams says: "Just how far parliament will take its objections to Kiriyenko is unclear." He writes: "For the moment, the parties seem to be using the Kiriyenko nomination to jockey for positions in government and win propaganda points."

LONDON TIMES: Yeltsin wins the day

"(Yeltsin) yesterday used all his guile and charm," writes Robin Lodge of The Times of London in his analysis today." The writer says: "Afterwards it seemed he had won the day. (Communist leader Gennady) Zyuganov, who had gone into the meeting adamantly declaring his action's determination to vote against Mr Kiriyenko, whom he described as too inexperienced and too liberal, said afterwards that the gathering had been useful. While the Communists and their allies were still intending to oppose the appointment on Friday, they had yet to discuss their position in later ballots. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist firebrand-turned-lapdog, said he saw no alternative to Mr Kiriyenko. The nominee himself said he was satisfied with the meeting and grateful for the suggestions."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin must offer more than get-together

Commentator Miriam Neubert writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Yeltsin's maneuvering is doomed. She says: "Never before has President Boris Yeltsin invited political foes into the Kremlin, and he may have thought this gesture alone would be enough to create a spirit of goodwill. But if he wants approval for his proposed new cabinet by a majority of Duma deputies, he will have to offer more than a get-together in the splendid St. Catherine's Hall." Neubert concludes: "Yeltsin sometimes declares himself ready to negotiate, only to later claim that his constitutional primacy allows him to act unilaterally. In any case, however, it is clear that inviting in the opposition is not going to help him get the dynamic, reformist government he hoped to get by firing the last one."

LOS ANGELES TIME: Politicians have no choice but to accept Kiriyenko

From Moscow, in today's Los Angeles Times, Vanora Bennett says the outcome is unclear. She writes: "Although Russian politicians met (yesterday) to consider (Yeltsin's) shock appointment of Sergei Kiriyenko as his new prime minister, they were quickly told they had no real choice but to back the little-known 35-year-old technocrat who has unexpectedly won the maverick president's favor."

Bennett says: "With his trademark guffaw, Yeltsin told the 20 or so party leaders, trade unionists and lawmakers present that they should think of 1988 as a non confrontational year. 'Nonconfrontational -- I don't veto, you don't reject,' he said. 'Let's give it a try.' "

The writer says: "It is still unclear whether Yeltsin's tactics will have cowed or impressed deputies when they vote on Kiriyenko. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin's spokesman, looked on the bright side, telling Russian television after the round-table session, 'No one openly said no.' And several centrist politicians gave cautious backing."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Russia is a combination of anarchy and democracy

In a commentary not specifically about the Kiriyenko conference, but a propos nonetheless, former U.S. national security adviser Zbiegniew Brzezinski wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that Russia is learning finally to concentrate on domestic priorities. He wrote: "The Russian public and the younger generation are beginning to realize that the new post-imperial Russia must concentrate on internal modernization and not on external ambitions. For the West, the policy implications are straightforward. Russia should continue to be helped, and NATO should be steadily expanded."

Brzezinski said: "The fundamental reality of today's Russia is that it is a messy combination of anarchy and democracy, of personal dictatorship and governmental chaos, of a dying welfare economy and parasitic capitalism, as well as of the political elite's lingering nostalgia for superpower status and the public's fatigue regarding old imperial aspirations."