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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boris Yeltsin: Any Sign Of Improving?

Although the possibility of a Communist victory has many Russians and a great deal of the West shaking in their collective boots, the increasingly likely prospect of President Boris Yeltsin retaining his hold on power is no great cause for rejoicing.


Despite his blitz election campaign, the president seems to have learned little about the democratic process from his years in power and instead continues to move further away from the ideals with which he began.


Yeltsin has shown himself to be a crisis manager par excellence. The image of the feisty president atop a tank, facing down the communist coup plotters in August 1991, will live far after Yeltsin has left the political stage.


But Yeltsin has been far less successful as a "peacetime" leader. Time after time, when a crisis has passed, Yeltsin has subsided into torpor, leaving the country at the mercy of an increasingly hardline group of advisers. Reform policy has been allowed to drift and corruption at high levels to go unchecked.


Now, with a rejuvenated, vigorous Yeltsin on the campaign stump, it is hard to imagine that just six months ago, one of the most commonly asked questions in analytical circles was: "Who is really running the country?"


Yeltsin has mobilized himself once again to retain his presidency in the face of a strong Communist challenge. But his main message seems to be -- apr?s nous, le d?luge.


He has pulled ahead in the polls, not by presenting a coherent and comprehensive platform to tell voters what he stands for and what he will do. Instead, he has played on old fears, threatening the voters with a Communist revanche -- a renewed crisis in the shadows of which he can shine.


Despite the president's frequent and widely publicized campaign trips, in which he plays the Russian muzhik, or man of the people, Yeltsin has not really had to negotiate with his electorate. He decided early on that he could win as the default candidate, the only alternative to the Communists.


Instead, he has played the Good Tsar Boris, scattering gifts everywhere he goes. He has not had to make any hard choices or substantive compromises in the course of the campaign to respond to the criticisms of the voters. As earnest of his resolve to change, he could sack unpopular hardline ministers such as Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who once again seems to be clinging onto his position against all odds.


Of course, there are several weeks of campaigning still to come before the next president has been chosen. But so far, Yeltsin has done little to suggest he knows how to improve his performance as a peacetime leader next time around.