Not Much Expected From Summit

January 12, 1994|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Russians are slowly beginning to get the hang of President Bill Clinton. Perhaps a splashy summit will complete the job.

Most Russians feel about Mr. Clinton's predecessor, George Bush, the way most Americans feel about Mikhail S. Gorbachev. To the average Russian, Mr. Bush was a great world leader who was tossed aside by his countrymen inexplicably and without any warning whatsoever.

"How does being governor of Arizona prepare him for world politics?" one Russian expert on U.S. politics blurted out the day after Mr. Clinton's election.

While Mr. Clinton's Arkansas has not exactly become a household word here, he arrives in Moscow tonight with solid accomplishments that are expected to make him a more completely defined figure for the typical Russian.

Though the summit with Mr. Yeltsin doesn't begin until tomorrow, Mr. Clinton has already announced that the United States has persuaded Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons. The agreement is supposed to be signed here Friday by the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

"Ukraine's arsenal is very dangerous ecologically and militarily for Russia," Alexei Yemelyanov, a Yeltsin adviser, said yesterday. "If Russia pushes Ukraine, it only arouses national feeling there. But if Clinton makes up his mind to settle this problem, many other problems between Ukraine and Russia can be settled."

Mr. Yeltsin and President Clinton will discuss a range of other issues -- from protecting the rights of authors to economic and political reforms and American aid.

On these issues, world-weary Russians are not expecting much. Despite grand promises of help when Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Clinton met in Vancouver, British Columbia, last year, life has only gotten more difficult and more uncertain for many people here.

Those circumstances helped create a strong protest vote for Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist who commands 5/8 5/8 TC strong bloc in the new Parliament, which met for the first time yesterday.

Mr. Clinton plans to avoid Mr. Zhirinovsky on this visit in an effort to lend what influence he has to the reformers.

Mr. Zhirinovsky's people were snappish on this point. "It's international practice to meet with the leaders of powerful parties," said Alexander Vengerovski, Mr. Zhirinovsky's so-called shadow foreign minister.

"I'm sure the American people will not like this. In our point of view, the meeting between the two presidents will be a very ordinary one with no results."

Perhaps it's better not to look for extravagant results, Vladimir Lukin, Russian ambassador to Washington, said yesterday.

"It will be a historic summit," he said. "The summit will be the beginning of a partnership without illusion."

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