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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Is Bullish On Yeltsin

In spite of signs that President Boris Yeltsin may be sacrificing reform to politics, U.S. President Bill Clinton has become a cheerleader for his Russian counterpart, telling reporters in Washington that he was convinced that Russia was "firmly moving forward" on economic reforms.

The remarks came even before Clinton sat down to talks with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Tuesday. The U.S. president said he had been persuaded by his telephone conversation last week with Yeltsin.

"We're going to have a discussion of where things are in Russia based on reform," Clinton told reporters, according to Reuters.

The U.S. president said that he was strongly in favor of a $9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which had reportedly stalled after Yeltsin removed his reformist first deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais.

"I believe the loan will go through and I believe that it should," he said. "They had a good year in 1995. They had inflation down, production was stable, the ruble was stronger. I think they're seeing some real economic growth there."

The U.S. president's enthusiasm prompted a rather snide headline in Thursday's Izvestia: "Clinton is the first to pinpoint signs of economic growth in Russia."

The author, Vladimir Nadein, was skeptical of the United States' uncritical support for its Russian partner.

"They like Chernomyrdin in the United States," he wrote. "And it seems he has found some very convincing words with which to tell Americans exactly what they want to hear."

Princeton Professor Stephen Cohen seconded the Russian reporter's view.

"There is this myopia in America about Russia," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"It dates from the end of the Soviet Union. Reform is a mantra, and it means Yeltsinism," Cohen said. "If Russia had such a good year in 1995, then why did 90 percent of the Russian electorate vote against Yeltsinism in December?"

The Our Home Is Russia bloc, led by Chernomyrdin, won just 10 percent of the vote in December's parliamentary elections.

Clinton's shortsighted approbation said much more about the United States than it did about Russia, added Cohen.

"Both presidents are up for re-election, and they have an enormous political investment in each other," said Cohen. "Clinton most of all. He has made Yeltsin and Russia the cornerstone of his foreign policy. If Yeltsinism goes down, and if Yeltsin is not replaced by someone who smells like him, then there will be a political bloodletting in the United States."

Cohen is worried about how the Russian intelligentsia will perceive Clinton's gushing admiration.

"This is an unhappy moment in U.S.-Russia relations," he said. "It is a policy that is more uninformed, more unenlightened, and more harmful than the Cold War. Russians will never forgive us for it."

Chernomyrdin's two-day conference with U.S. political leaders gave every sign of turning into a love fest. Concerns over the future of economic reform after the departure of privatization architect Chubais were brushed aside.

The Associated Press quoted U.S. officials expressing satisfaction with Chernomyrdin's description of Chubais' replacement, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kadannikov, as "a good guy."

According to the Izvestia article, U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who was hosting Chernomyrdin within the framework of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission of Technological and Economic Cooperation, offered a biting rebuttal to the gloomy predictions of the Western press after the departure of leading reformers from Yeltsin's cabinet.

When industry magnate Chernomyrdin replaced reformer Yegor Gaidar as prime minister in 1993, Gore recalled, the Western press forecast the end of the reform period.

"But the reforms continued as well as before, if not better," said Gore.

The upbeat tone of the president and vice president was markedly different from that of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who, in a speech at Harvard University last week warned that the Clinton administration may toughen its stance on Russia's admission into Western political organizations if Russia deviated from the path of reform.

Analysts say that the United States is engaged in a rather transparent attempt to prop up the embattled Yeltsin in his bid to withstand challenges from the communist and nationalist opposition and retain the presidency.

"Both sides are adhering to the rules of the game," said Irina Kobrinskaya, an associate at the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. "With both presidents facing re-election, Clinton's support is a case of noblesse oblige."

But the gesture, however well-intentioned, is unlikely to bring tangible results, she added. In contrast to the days of former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, whose support in the West raised his prestige at home, Yeltsin faces a severely anti-Western opposition.

"Yeltsin will not gain credibility by going to the West for support," said Kobrinskaya. "Quite the reverse."