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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Must Choose His Friends Well

Boris Yeltsin may have lost some of his customary bounce and good humor, but Russia's president looks in far better shape politically now than he did this day a year ago, when he would still have been recovering from a sleepless night spent persuading the army to rescue him from armed rebellion.


Ironically, as the president's popularity and political resolve to force through radical reform appear to be weakening, the collapse of the so-called "implacables" as a cohesive opposition force has left him in the strongest position he has enjoyed since the initial euphoria that followed defeat of the August 1991 coup.


Who is capable today of facing down the president or of blocking his will? Whereas a year ago most political observers gave poor odds to Yeltsin seeing out his elected term in office, today the question is whether he will run again or simply extend his term.


A week is a very long time in Russian politics, but for now the implacables seem good only for massing a few thousand malcontents on the streets. It might make good television, were it not for the fact that the networks and the public have seen it all before and are bored with it.


But with the political season back in full swing after a long slow summer, the question is: Where does Yeltsin go from here? All the indications are that he has turned away from the path of radical reform in favor of a less ambitious and less traumatic course, with the emphasis on stability and compromise.


Liberal standard bearers such as Yegor Gaidar have long since been cast aside from the government in favor of conservatives. At his press conference Tuesday, Yeltsin even talked about bringing the Communists back into the fold, something that would have been unthinkable from his viewpoint a few months ago.


The value of consensus and political stability has already been shown this year, reflected in the relative calm of the ruble and of inflation. There is a great deal to be said for this kind of consensus, both in the government and in the fractious State Duma. But Yeltsin should also remember who his real friends are and what kind of Russia holds a future for him, rather than for the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov or for men like Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


Yeltsin should bear in mind the lesson that he helped to teach Mikhail Gorbachev not so long ago. By seeking to appease the Soviet Old Guard, Gorbachev alienated or cast aside the reformists who had made up the core of his support -- and the basis for his political future. In the end, he surrounded himself with reactionaries who despised everything he stood for, and who betrayed him.