A Russian Call for a World Safe for Democracy

June 21, 1992|By LEN LATKOVSKI

In the five years he has been in the international spotlight, Boris Yeltsin has rightly gained a reputation for being a dynamic, forceful, brave, at times even reckless figure who will take strong actions to get things done.

The latest example of his bold style was his performance in Washington at the first Russian-American summit of the post-Communist period. Mr. Yeltsin not only made a historic and very dramatic strategic-arms reduction which severely diminishes a key area of Russian nuclear capability, but he went further by announcing before a joint session of the U.S. Congress that he was unilaterally removing all the long-range SS-18 missiles now targeted on the United States. And he made several startling statements about the possibility that the Soviet Union had held American prisoners of war.

Mr. Yeltsin's powerful style in Washington will not guarantee ultimate political success, however. He faces supreme political, economic and social challenges that will test his leadership skills -- particularly this summer, when his campaign to discredit the former Communist rulers will come to a head over the legal issue of whether the party should be outlawed.

The highlight of Mr. Yeltsin's visit to America was his rousing speech, for which he received 11 standing ovations, as the first Soviet or Russian leader to address Congress. Declaring that ''there is no coexistence between a democracy and a totalitarian dictatorship,'' he called for U.S.-Russian cooperation, saying: ''History is giving us a chance to fulfill President Woodrow Wilson's dream to make the world safe for democracy.''

They were extraordinary words, solemnizing the end of the age of nuclear terror and Cold War and marking Boris Yeltsin's emergence as a formidable international figure.

Len Latkovski teaches at Hood College in Frederick.

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