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26th April 1998

Call to oust Yeltsin gains momentum

By Mervyn de Silva

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THE REDS ARE COMING.... Back? Will the Commies and their allies from the DUMA storm, not the Bastille, but Moscow's White House? Post-communist Russian history is repeating neither French nor American nor its own Czarist or Stalinist history.

It has less Marxist-Leninism than the Marx Brothers.... so topsy-turvy, so crazy. But nothing hilarious. For the "masses" it is the worst of times. Lucky is the soldier who has received his last month's pay.

The first tactical move of the Communists who are spearheading the campaign to oust President Yeltsin is to strengthen the anti-Yeltsin coalition, its unity most of all, and have the "impeachment resolution" top of the parliamentary agenda. Once the debate on the motion begins, neither the President nor the Speaker, if he is arm-twisted or persuaded, can stop the proceedings.

Though President Yeltsin (67 years), had to take a long rest on his doctors orders in December, two years ago he underwent quintuple coronary artery bypass operation and since then, his doctors do keep an eye on his health, and "the stress factor". In short, political trends alone will not decide the President's strategy but health and stress factors as western diplomats in Moscow predict. He tries to keep his opponents off-balance.

During a visit to Sweden in December, for instance, he told the press that Russia would unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons by a third. Aides rushed to explain that Mr. Yeltsin did not mean "unilaterally".... a crucial point. Last year, President Yeltsin threatened a sweeping Cabinet re-shuffle reminds David Hoffman of the Washington Post.... and then backed down.... only to fire the entire Cabinet a few weeks later.

The question then has little to do with his experience, competence or his capacity to judge events and weigh the pros and cons of a serious or complex problem but whether his health can help him bear the mounting burdens of the Presidency.... not the American or French Presidency but the Russian Presidency.

It is interesting to note that his "explanation" included praise for the Prime Minister he sacked, and added that the resignation of the government DOES NOT MEAN any change of our policy.

What does it mean? One plain answer is that he sees himself as "the Czar of Czars". This is not connected with ideology or with the bankers' war or rivalry observes Shevstova, a political scientist consulted by the more professionally respected members of the foreign correspondents corps in Moscow. In her view, it has everything to do with Yeltsin himself...." his effort to secure his own power. Everything depends entirely and ONLY on him".

Eastern European observers particularly the Polish and Czech "Moscow watchers" are inclined to see the problems of governance in terms of Yeltsin's personality, his career in the party, his engagements with potential rivals in the power-elite (the Kremlin, if you like) and the pressure from the US and NATO, the more aggressive post-Cold War policy of winning over or neutralising the former Warsaw Pact members.

Can President Yeltsin overawe a Russian Parliament that he cannot treat casually, and certainly not treat with contempt? That is one major question. Could he have much greater leverage than say an India or an Egypt? China, the other Communist giant of the post-war world, has adjusted to private enterprise far more deftly. It deals with the US and the all-powerful Bretton Woods with much greater self-assurance.

Yes, Yeltsin has understood the implications of the new world economic order, and the strategic roles of the Bretton Woods twins but is confronted with a unique problem. China is not a superpower.... not yet. The Soviet Union (Russia) was a superpower militarily. And remains one. China may have the potential strength to join the superpower club but quite rightly it concentrates on improving living standards. It cannot bear the double burden of the basic needs of over a billion and the costs of membership in the US-Russia club.

President Yeltsin recently announced that Moscow would unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons.... Unilaterally, that's important. To make sure that NATO leaders.... the US most of all, of course.... took note of this important initiative.

How far will the Communist onslaught undermine President Yeltsin? On March 23 he dismissed the government of Sergei Kiriyenko. By Friday, it was not entirely clear whether he could survive a "confidence" vote, though he had assured some Moscow editors that he had sufficient support to survive a trial of strength, some political analysts in the Moscow press, were not at all certain his tactical manoeuvre would see him through. What Mr. Kiriyenko had done was to pull an old parliamentary trick. He had persuaded MP's of some of the smaller parties to "refrain". These were members of small parties who would never vote for Kiriyenko, but could be persuaded to keep away when the bell was rung. All that however would not bring certain victory unless the bigger formations such as OUR HOME IS RUSSIA help him. OUR HOME IS RUSSIA (a rather picturesque name for a political party, surely does reflect a resurgent Russian nationalism, a new force).

What has President Yeltsin placed as the most urgent items on the national agenda. "Our desire to impart more energy and more efficiency to economic reform, to give it an additional impetus, a fresh momentum.... I think the members of the Cabinet need to focus better on the solution of concrete economic and social issues. They should be less involved in politics" (My emphasis).

It is market economics and efficiency that President Yeltsin is talking about. The Communists will oppose or at least criticise him on the IMF-WORLD Bank prescription, the Nationalists will accuse him of "selling Mother Russia" to the foreign capitalists.

Hulftsdorp Hill

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