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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Yeltsin Can Use Address To Rebound




President Boris Yeltsin's state-of-the-nation address last year was a show-stopping performance. Returning from six months of life-threatening illness that had paralyzed the government, he made a coherent and detailed policy statement that dispelled fears about his health and set the economic reform agenda for the year.


Yet as Yeltsin prepares to take the podium Tuesday for the 1998 presidential address before both houses of parliament, the outlook for a repeat performance seems dim.


Yeltsin's presidency has been drifting for the past six months, his health is fading and his government is now torn by rivalries between potential successors.


Yeltsin again has spent much of the winter confined with illness. His statements on foreign policy, for instance on Iraq, and his performances during his recent trips abroad have been erratic to the point of embarrassment.


Yeltsin's foggy understanding of where he wants Russia to go has created deep rifts in the Cabinet. Although he has apparently decided not to jettison the two young reformers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin has taken away much of their power.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's stature has grown but, as always, he refuses to take the lead on any issue. The shadowy figures of crony capitalism, such as financier Boris Berezovsky, are tightening their grip on policy. Yeltsin's promise of a new cooperative relationship with the State Duma, parliament's lower house, has turned into a recipe for avoiding tough legislative decisions.


With Yeltsin so obviously in decline, Russia's ruling elite is again wasting its political energy on jostling for position in the next presidential race, whenever it comes. Yeltsin only makes matters worse by refusing to give an unambiguous statement on whether he plans to run for a third term, despite the constitutional problems that would involve.


This litany of indecision and inertia may reflect too bleak a picture. Russia is wandering in basically the right direction, with a moderate consensus behind free-market reform. Russia did record its first economic growth in a decade last year.


But given the huge and crucial powers of the Russian president and the weakness of other institutions, Yeltsin's current performance is not good enough.


He should use his annual address Tuesday to turn his presidency around. He needs to announce a program that transform Russia into a democratic and prosperous country by the year 2000. He should indicate how he plans to push ahead with stalled reform of the military and what his legislative agenda is for the rest of the year. He must repudiate totally the crony capitalism and infighting that hamstrung economic reform last year.