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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin for President: Why Care?

Boris Yeltsin turns 65 next week and he has now all but confirmed that he will be running for a second four-year term as president of Russia in June. His strategy in the coming campaign is already abundantly clear -- to seize the ground from beneath the feet of the Communist Party.


But will it really matter if he loses?


There is a cogent argument, which must now be running through the minds of many Russians, to the effect that if Yeltsin has adopted the walk and the talk of the Communists, and if he is acting with the kind of unprincipled brutality of the former Soviet regime, then why not opt for the real thing instead?


Certainly, nothing about the last week's events in Pervomaiskoye suggests that this is a kinder, gentler sort of regime. The loss of the administration's last remaining liberals implies it will only be crueler in the future.


Yeltsin's appeal, now that he has shunned liberalism and donned the mantle of Russia's socialists and nationalists, must be that he would implement the same policies as the hard left and right, only more effectively and reliably. But again, nothing about the experience in Pervomaiskoye has given Russia's electorate cause to look at their president as effective or reliable.


The president has done himself untold political damage by a series of appearances on television during the Pervomaiskoye crisis, in which he seemed -- to put it gently -- out of touch. The briefings he had been given concerning the hostage crisis were clearly fantasy, and the president was left to spout about tactical maneuvers that viewers knew -- even from the limited coverage that was possible from Dagestan -- to be nonsense.


Worse, Yeltsin seemed uncertain, bumbling. The overall impression was not of a strong hand taking charge of the situation in Chechnya, but of a wounded beast thrashing destructively about itself. Similarly, the president's last-minute change of stripes is likely to lose him the aura he has enjoyed as a fighter, the Communist dragon-slayer, leaving him instead politically colorless and inspiring to nobody.


Only negative arguments remain to favor Yeltsin over the Communists, Alexander Lebed or Vladimir Zhirinovsky. One is that Yeltsin and his extended entourage are devils whom we know. Who can predict, for example, the turmoil if Communists win power and concern themselves with making sure that their people control the country's large privatized and semi-privatized companies?


The other is that Yeltsin's hardline barks only sometimes are followed by bite. There is an element of freedom that emerges from the chaos of today's Russia. Would it be preferable to elect people capable of carrying out the threats that inevitably will be made during the coming campaign?