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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Cozies Up to Lebed Electorate

BALTIISK, Kaliningrad Region -- President Boris Yeltsin struck a nationalist tone during a campaign stop in Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, promising the navy a greater and more prosperous future.


Yeltsin, who faces a strong challenge from Communist Gennady Zyuganov in the July 3 presidential election runoff, also vowed Sunday to protect the rights of Russian speakers in the Baltic states.


"Guaranteeing the basic rights and freedoms of our compatriots [in the Baltics] is a priority for me," said Yeltsin, complaining in particular about the plight of Russians in Latvia and Estonia.


Yeltsin drew heavily on phrases used by nationalist rivals in the June 16 first-round ballot as he addressed sailors and navy officers at the naval base in Baltiisk, headquarters of Russia's Baltic Fleet.


"I am sure that Russia and Russians have a bright future and it is not too far away," he told the navy servicemen and marines lined up on the central square of Baltiisk, 60 kilometers west of the regional center, Kaliningrad. "The basis of this bright future is known -- freedom and order," he added.


The last phrase was borrowed directly from the campaign of retired paratroop general Alexander Lebed, who ran a strong third in the first round of the presidential vote and was promptly brought into the Kremlin by Yeltsin as security overlord.


Yeltsin, who had a thin 3-percentage-point advantage over Zyuganov in the first round, visited Kaliningrad in a clear attempt to secure the large Lebed vote there. Lebed won 14.52 percent, or almost 11 million, of the total first round votes and 19 percent in the Kaliningrad region.


Yeltsin said his appointment of Lebed as secretary of the powerful Security Council would help toward government policies aimed at improving the lot of Russia's servicemen.


He told the sailors of the warship Nastoichivy (Insistent) that the Kaliningrad region, which belonged to Germany and was known as Eastern Prussia until the end of World War II, would remain Russian beyond any doubt.


Yeltsin said the abuse of Russians' civil rights in Latvia and Estonia was hindering attempts by Moscow to improve ties with the Baltic states.


Both Estonia and Latvia have large Russian minorities who were mostly denied automatic citizenship of the newly independent countries in 1991.


"The Kaliningrad region is Russian soil," he said. "There should be no doubt about it."