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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President's first year: The jury is still out

Friday marks the first anniversary of Boris Yeltsin's election as president of Russia, but it is no moment for celebration.


The government which he led successfully through last August's attempted putsch and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union now lacks credible authority in the Russian federation and among its people.


There is no agreement on a constitution to hold the federation together, or to divide the power granted by the Russian electorate to its president and parliament. Critics as diverse as Grigory Yavlinsky and the nationalist Sergei Baburin are charging that the reform process which has been the basis of Yeltsin's popular appeal is out of his control, and the economy for which he is responsible is no longer operating rationally or predictably.


First Vice Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar concedes that the government has lost its political authority. "Virtually no government instructions were complied with", he said of the time of the last congress. Despite improvement since then, he admits, "there is still no new and sufficiently efficient mechanism for enforcing government decisions".


Under such conditions, fundamental political and economic changes are inevitable. Whether Yeltsin is carried off by these changes, whether he chooses to walk away from them, or whether he can survive to lead Russia is a question for the prophets.


Lead prophet these days is former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, no wiser than others for predicting that Yeltsin's demise will come sooner rather than later.


Unfortunately for Yeltsin, his circle has been narrowing this is customary in conditions of crisis. The strain is also showing in the president's demeanor. He can't be cheered by the good news advisors, and he can't avoid hearing the bad news.


What can Yeltsin do on this anniversary to turn things around?


New promises of economic recovery or demands for new powers, are not the answer. The failure of promises he made a year ago is the reason he lacks the power he wants to exercise now. An autumn referendum would expose this, if he dares call it.


He is also fooling himself if he believes his appeals to the Western leaders he will be meeting in the next few weeks will extract him, or the country, from this predicament. There will be no rescue from the West.


Russia is going to be forced to look inward, not outward, to relieve this crisis. The president has not shown himself to be an introspective man. But he has a talent for listening to others that his predecessor lacked. As Russia looks inward to save itself, the best resolution for Yeltsin to make today is to go outside his circle, and perhaps inside himself, to hear what Russians and common sense are saying.