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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks Seen As BoostFor YeltsinCampaign

President Boris Yeltsin's sudden initiatives on Chechnya this week have transformed Russia's political landscape, leaving his Communist rival floundering to recover the campaign initiative.

In the wake of Yeltsin's landmark deal to end the fighting in Chechnya and his daring and sudden visit to the breakaway republic, the mood in the Yeltsin camp is jubilant. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Thursday declared that the Yeltsin team now had a first-round victory in its sights.

"We very much want the elections to be a one-round affair," Chernomyrdin told Interfax, suggesting he expects Yeltsin to collect 50 percent of the vote June 16.

The week's developments could indeed give a new impetus to Yeltsin's impressive rise in the polls. The continuing war in Chechnya had been a major setback for Yeltsin, who has himself said an end to the bloody conflict is crucial to his success at the polls.

"This was a crucial moment for Yeltsin's campaign," said Andrei Piontkowsky of the Moscow Institute for Strategic Studies. "It was his strategic task to regain his traditional electorate -- the democrats and reformers. And for them, a deal on Chechnya was always much more important than any behind-the-scenes negotiations with Yavlinsky."

He was referring to the liberal economist and presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky, who has in recent weeks hinted he could be willing to cooperate electorally with Yeltsin.

The Chechen initiative could still backfire -- if the June 1 cease-fire, agreed in Moscow, fails to take effect or if the negotiating process should break down, as it did last summer after a similar cessation of hostilities.

But analysts said the situation this year was different. "The difference is that last year, the peace initiative came from Chernomyrdin -- and that made Yeltsin jealous," said Piontkowsky. "But this time, it is Yeltsin himself behind it."

Rivals have been forced to yield the stage this week to Yeltsin. For instance, Chechnya completely overshadowed the launch of the long-awaited Communist economic program. Communist Gennady Zyuganov and Yavlinsky have been forced to welcome Yeltsin's peace moves, only criticizing him for staging an election stunt and delaying talks through 17 months of conflict. But according to Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA/Canada Institute, that is the only strategy open to them, other than waiting to see if the cease-fire actually works.

"All Yeltsin's opponents have to support the peace initiative. But they can raise the question: Why not one year ago?" he said. "But a cease-fire is not the same as peace. Let's see if it is observed."

Analysts agreed Zyuganov's options were now extremely limited, with little opportunity to revive his election prospects. "I don't think he has much leverage to do that," Kremenyuk said. "He can only try once again to reactivate the mistrust in Yeltsin, remind them of all the promises that he is making that he cannot fulfill. And if next week, hostilities resume in Chechnya, that will destroy Yeltsin's image as a peacekeeper."

"There is nothing more that Zyuganov can do," said Piontkowsky. "He has to be counting on a catastrophe for Yeltsin. Only negative campaigning is open to him."