Yeltsin buoyed by stability at home as he enters summit with Clinton

September 26, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Watch Boris Yeltsin's barrel chest as the Russian leader meets President Clinton for their fifth summit tomorrow. If it is thrust especially proud, if his labored imitation of an American smile is especially wide, if his performance in the now-familiar Bill-and-Boris Show looks more relaxed than ever, there will be reason.

For the first time in his three years as president of Russia, Mr. Yeltsin now can face his American counterpart buoyed by the best kind of success at home: Not just his slaying of the Communist dragon, not the shameful victory that came of turning tanks on his own Parliament last October but the most Herculean achievement of all -- taking Russia from turmoil to stability.

"We can see now that Yeltsin is in full control," Sergei Chugayev, political commentator for the Izvestia newspaper, wrote last week.

"Full control" is going a bit far. After all, Russia is still being bled by gangsters and corrupt bureaucrats and the best that can be said of its economy is that the long slump appears to have bottomed out.

Still, as this summit rolls around, Mr. Yeltsin comes to Washington able to sell American investors on Russia with a straight face. Russian officials have even begun to boast of an imminent investment boom.

The Clinton-Yeltsin summit agenda includes talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO and global peacekeeping. Mr. Yeltsin will warm up to those themes in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly today, spelling out Russia's evolving post-Cold War foreign policy.

But his prime objective this trip is to court American capitalists. He meets this morning with business leaders in New York, and for the first time, four captains of American industry have been invited to join for part of a presidential summit in the Oval Office.

Accompanying Mr. Yeltsin are dozens of hopeful suitors for American capital, from the head of the beleaguered ZIL automaker to the creators of the world's largest cargo plane.

After he meets with Mr. Clinton tomorrow and Wednesday, Mr. Yeltsin will spend his summit "free day" in Seattle, bestowing his presence on Boeing Co., which has been actively developing ventures in Russia.

Mr. Yeltsin's pitch to American business includes: inflation chopped from double digits to 5 percent or so per month; a crop of privatized factories willing to sell large chunks of themselves to foreign owners; and new or planned decrees offering tax breaks and investment guarantees.

And just in case stability doesn't work as a sales pitch, Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev reverted last week to an old scare tactic. He reminded readers of the Kommersant Daily newspaper that, if Russia's economic development is stymied, the government could be taken over by extremists -- and "after that, we could simply forget any discussion about partnership with the West."

Economics aside, the long-touted Russian-American partnership in politics is likely to be tested gently as the two countries work out their post-Cold War strategies.

The Americans, for example, hope to air their deep concerns about Russia's control of its nuclear arsenal -- from its highly publicized leaks of black-market plutonium to its inability to meet treaty schedules for destroying its missiles.

Yesterday, Sen. Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" news show that Russian control over nuclear weapons remains "the most important challenge we have in national security for the next 10 or 12 years."

The two presidents are expected to sign a technical agreement that would include unprecedented U.S.-Russian exchanges of information on the nuclear materials they have in their stockpiles.

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