Rebuffing Russian Reaction

December 16, 1993

Vice President Al Gore's denunciation yesterday of the Russian neo-fascist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, had a harsh, blunt, uncompromising quality that was needed to express American revulsion to the racism, anti-Semitism, militarism and ultra-nationalism that comes out of the mouth of this new demagogue on the Moscow scene.

In describing Mr. Zhirinovsky, views as "reprehensible and anathema to all freedom-loving peoples," the vice president was speaking not only for his countrymen. His words were bound to resonate passionately among the Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and all others Mr. Zhirinovsky, would threaten through a return to Russian expansionism.

Mr. Gore's outraged candor was needed, not only to bolster President Boris N. Yeltsin after the unexpected strength shown by the Russian right in Sunday's parliamentary elections, but to give heart to millions of Russians committed to democracy.

The vice president's visit had been arranged to celebrate a reformist victory that never materialized and to prepare the way for President Clinton's arrival in Russia next month. Instead, it provided the U.S. with the opportunity to applaud Mr. Yeltsin's "great confidence in his ability to stay on the reform course" and his belief that his new constitution "will stand against any fascist or communist."

Mr. Clinton, in Washington, said he saw no evidence there will be a "big, new dangerous direction" in Russian policy or any need for a change in U.S. policy. Such optimism may prove unfounded, though late returns indicated the new Russian parliament may be fairly evenly trisected by the ultra-nationalists, the communists and the reformers. The election was no Zhirinovsky, sweep.

The administration found itself under some criticism for having tied its policy too closely to one man, Mr. Yeltsin. It was an ironic reprise of previous objections to President George Bush's protracted embrace of Mikhail Gorbachev. But in defense of what is now a bipartisan U.S. tendency to stick with the man in power in the Kremlin, it can be argued that Russia is an autocratic society ruled by autocrats. The policy question then becomes: What kind of autocrats are acceptable?

At the same time, it is imperative for the U.S. to display its concern for the safety and independence of states only recently freed from the Soviet yoke. Poland, especially, has been visibly unhappy over Washington's reluctance to grant it full membership in NATO. But in choosing a milky alternative, "Partnership for Peace," Washington has been trying to avoid provoking the generals who preserved Mr. Yeltsin in office during the October crisis.

Now an even more complicated crisis is at hand. The U.S. role is to cooperate with Moscow so long as responsible leadership in the Kremlin makes this possible. But this administration also has to make sure free world defenses and alliances are up to the challenge should Mr. Zhirinovsky, prove an enduring threat rather than just a spastic reaction from the recession-plagued Russian people.

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