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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Fruits: Leaders Find Common Bond

As Bill Clinton bid farewell to Boris Yeltsin in Vancouver, he squeezed the Russian's hand very hard twice, and muttered "Win - win".


The real achievement of the Vancouver summit was not the picayune $1. 6 billion in new American money, nor even the $40 billion package of G7 and IMF money and debt relief that Clinton promised to do his best to deliver.


It was the bonding of two populist politicians who talk the same language of campaigns and elections, of barnstorming vast countries in the great vote-hunt of democracies.


This sudden and psychologically important union between two professional politicians is something entirely new at the summit level. Their common obsession with the April 25 referendum and with Russian domestic politics led to the one real hiccup in their talks.


Clinton had been talking at length about the joint U. S. -Russian committee on space and technological cooperation to be chaired by Vice-President Al Gore and the Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Yeltsin's face grew longer and longer. Then Clinton referred to his new housing plan to re-settle Russian troops from the Baltic States, using the White House acronym, ROSTI, which stands for Russian Officer's Resettlement Initiative.


Yeltsin could hardly contain himself. "Why do you keep talking about my Vice-President Rutskoi? " he complained.


"Gore", said Clinton, suddenly understanding Yeltsin's confusion. "I was talking about our Vice-President, Al Gore".


Indeed, it was because the Americans knew of Yeltsin's concerns about Rutskoi that Clinton had proposed Chernomyrdin to join Gore on the new commission, rather than make it a vehicle for the two Veeps. Clinton wants to do everything he can, short of overt interference in the Russian political process, to help Boris win.


Yeltsin brings home something very close to an American mandate for a discreet and bloodless political coup to re-assert his authority over the fractious Russian Parliament and the spendthrift Central Bank. The White House is gambling on Yeltsin to win the referendum, and will back him even if the referendum gives an ambiguous result of a majority of the votes cast, but not of all eligible voters.


One of Clinton's aides summed it up on the plane back to Washington. "It's that old political law - you can't beat somebody with nobody. and one thing about Yeltsin - he sure is somebody. The other side has nobody".


Clinton nodded, thinking back to the big Russian whom he had suddenly come to know as a campaigning politician much like himself. and he said again - "Win, Boris, win".