Can Clinton's Support Help Yeltsin? Domestic Trials Haunt Russian Leader

April 04, 1993|By DANIEL SNEIDER

MOSCOW. — Moscow.-- Accompaning the meeting of American and Russian presidents this weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia, there is much ballyhoo about the transformation from cold-war enmity to partnership. Indeed, on issues ranging from the Yugoslav crisis to the global economy, Russia under Boris Yeltsin now talks the same language as the West.

But as President Clinton will soon discover, Mr. Yeltsin's political troubles make it very difficult for him to deliver on promises of cooperation.

Both foreign policy and economic reform are increasingly being held hostage to domestic political pressures, particularly in the weeks leading up to an April 25 referendum on Mr. Yeltsin's rule, observers say.

"Russian foreign policy is paralyzed," says Sergei Rogov, deputy director of Moscow's USA-Canada Institute think tank.

"I don't think anything is going to happen until after April," comments a Western economic adviser on the prospects for progress on reform.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has been under continuous fire from the conservative-dominated parliament for pursuing what critics call a pro-Western policy.

"This course comprises the betrayal of 25 million of our compatriots, the Russian-speaking population living outside Russia, of drawing our country into military adventures totally alien to us, the military adventures of the West in Yugoslavia, in Iraq, yielding to Japanese territorial claims," said Iona Andronov, the deputy head of the parliament's foreign affairs committee in a March 26 speech to the Congress of People's Deputies.

The effect of such pressure is evident in the Russian reluctance to agree to strict enforcement of the flight ban in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mr. Rogov says. Instead the Russians dispatched special envoy Vitaly Churkin to Belgrade March 30 in an effort to persuade the Serb-dominated Yugoslav government and the Bosnian Serbs to go along with the United Nations-negotiated peace agreement.

The domestic opposition also makes it unlikely that the Russian parliament will ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) reached between Russia and the United States in January. The open intervention of the United States in the Russian political struggle has riled people such as Mr. Andronov who angrily denounced the recent remarks of Secretary of State Warren Christopher labeling the parliament as "undemocratic" and backing Mr. Yeltsin.

"If you have the U.S. secretary of state questioning the very legitimacy of the Russian parliament, do you expect this parliament to ratify START II?" asks Mr. Rogov. "Are you supporting a man or your own national interests? The U.S. position is helping the right wing here."

The political chaos also complicates prospects for an agreement on new credits between Russia and the Group of Seven (G-7) major Western aid donors. A large influx of aid, including the suspension of Russian payments on its huge foreign debt, depend on Russia reaching agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But that effort, aimed at setting new economic targets for Russia as a condition for new loans, has been stalled for months.

"I don't see very clearly how we can in the immediate future negotiate an agreement with Russia," IMF representative Jean Foglizzo told reporters last week. "And the main reason for that is that to negotiate an agreement with a country we need to make sure that the different organs of power . . . have a common view of what the future and the development of the economy should be. And today we don't see this convergence between them."

The main obstacle is the Russian Central Bank, which has sharply differed with the tough anti-inflation policy pursued by the Yeltsin government on the advice of the IMF. The bank, which answers to the parliament and not to the government, has liberally pumped credits to bankrupt state-run industries on the grounds that the country cannot afford to have them go under.

"The key issue is the Central Bank not being a central bank, but wanting to run industrial policy," says the Western economic adviser, "and the enormous pressure everyone faces from the [industrial] dinosaurs who have their claws out."

The parliament and the government are competing for popular support before the referendum by promising massive new social payments, including an increased minimum wage and pensions.

Under these circumstances, the Russian government is not in any position to meet the IMF's demands to curb inflation. Such an agreement "will be very difficult unless the G-7 decides it wants to suspend the rules," says the Western adviser.

Russians, for their part, are increasingly critical of the West, which promised a $24 billion aid package in 1992 but delivered, according to Russian officials, only $11.7 billion. Many contend that the IMF's conditions, without which Russia cannot get $9 billion in planned credits, are blocking, not facilitating, reform.

"What the IMF is asking is that Russia should successfully conduct economic reform, and then they will give it some credits," complains analyst Rogov.

Ministers of the G-7, which will hold its annual summit in July, are to meet later in mid-April to discuss Russian aid. Russia has proposed a new aid package amounting to more than $20 billion.

Daniel Sneider is a Moscow correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

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