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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin State Of Nation: Hollow Tone

As state of the nation addresses go, Friday's performance by President Boris Yeltsin was standard fare for a president facing re-election. In other words, it was a fairly shameless attempt at self-promotion.


A thinly veiled reprise of the president's declaration speech in Yekaterinburg, the address sounded by now familiar themes: Vote for me, or risk having all the achievements of the past four years unravel in a communist revanche.


As difficult as the transition period has been, said the president, it has resulted in a better life for Russians. Freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and a budding market economy are among the major achievements of his administration.


On the foreign policy front, the president pointed to the tightening integration of the CIS countries as one of his major successes. True, perhaps, but not the most logical claim coming from the man who engineered the breakup of the Soviet Union.


Electioneering has its own rules. Yeltsin cannot be blamed for trading on the power of incumbency. Politicians do it all over the world. And Russia did not invent pork-barrel politics. But Yeltsin's new focus on social welfare and public discontent sounds hollow.


"We have come to that very dangerous point beyond which fatigue and discontent may outweigh perseverance and hope among the people," said Yeltsin. Loosely translated, this means: "We have come to a dangerous point beyond which an impoverished and disgruntled public may refuse to vote me into a second term of office."


During the tough years of hyperinflation, an escalating decline in production, and increasing social chaos, the president was all but silent on the human costs of reform. Now, with an election looming, he has promised to implement populist and potentially inflationary measures that, in the long run, may deepen the pain for the most disadvantaged sectors of society.


Just one day after sealing a $10.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that mandates a policy of fiscal conservatism for the next three years, Yeltsin has once again held out the mirage of indexed savings, a social safety net, and a large state fund to help people buy their first homes.


The IMF may have given a tacit nod to the president's pre-election largess. But international financiers are unlikely to be so understanding if a re-elected Yeltsin continues to implement policies that directly contradict the terms of the loan.


Russia's voters must try to decide whether it is they who are being misled, or the IMF. They must also choose whether to believe Yeltsin's promises, or cast their lot with the opposition, taking a chance that many of the gains of the past four years may be undone.