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Russia: Clinton Sounds Situation

Moscow, 1 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The economic crisis and political tension in Russia have turned U. S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow into a sort of political reconnaissance mission.

Indeed, no decisions are expected to be reached by Clinton and Russia's President Boris Yeltsin, and there will by no departures from established policies.

Igor Bunin, Director of the Center of Political Technologies, a think-tank close to Chernomyrdin, says a meaningful discussion of Russia's crisis is "in the absence of a real prime minister and of a real government impossible."

Sergei Karaganov, director of the Academy of Science's Europe institute and member of the presidential council, said today in an interview with the Interfax news agency that talks between Yeltsin and Clinton "are important mainly to stress that, at a difficult moment for Russia, the dialogue between Moscow and Washington is not interrupted." But, he added, "no serious decisions are likely to emerge" from two days of talks.

Viktor Kremenyuk, Director of the U.S.A and Canada Institute, said "the Russian side will again ask either direct financial support to overcome the financial crisis, or Washington's help to obtain this from international financial institutions."

But he noted that the U.S. "is probably now questioning not only Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin's stand, but also the worth of Russia's political elite as a whole, since financial credits were given in the past following their promises."

Indeed, the focus of Clinton's visit is on finding out what this Russian "political elite" is up to. Most influential Russian politicians are to meet and talk today and tomorrow with the U. S President.

The list of those waiting for an audience with Clinton reads like a Who is Who of Russia's declared presidential hopefuls: from Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov to pro-reform "Yabloko" leader Grigory Yavlinsky, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed.

The Russian media say this is a sign that the U.S. president is in Moscow not merely to show support for Yeltsin, but to have first-hand impressions of possible future political changes, in case of political turmoil obliging Yeltsin either to leave the Kremlin or to dissolve the parliament.

As for the ordinary Russians, Clinton's visit appears to be of relatively little immediate significance. The great national issues of the day concern problems of everyday existence, the number of rubles to a dollar, the availability of money and goods, and the security of savings.

The Duma is to vote on the Prime Minister-designate Viktor Chernomyrdin on Monday (Sept. 7), four days after Clinton's departure. And the prospect for an approval is bleak. President Yeltsin is expected to name Chernomyrdin again and, if the Duma rejects him for the third time, Yeltsin may be forced to dissolve the parliament, appoint a temporary government and call for a new election.

Deputy Speaker of the Duma, Vladimir Ryzhkov, today said at a press conference in Moscow that the leftist majority in the parliament appears prepared for the dissolution and a new ballot.