Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russians' Troubles Mount amid Growing Uncertainty

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russians' Troubles Mount amid Growing Uncertainty

Article excerpt

MOSCOW -- As twilight calms a boisterous outdoor market near the Kievsky train station, 70-year-old Tatyana Yegorova arrives each day to collect beer bottles and merchants' discarded rotten potatoes.

She sells each bottle for a ruble, about 4 cents, to supplement her monthly income of 380 rubles, not quite $16; the potatoes are the cornerstone of her diet.

"Russia's ruling elite," she complained angrily as she competed with other retirees for the best selections, "don't care if we live or die. They do well, and we're out here picking up bottles."

The mood is surly in Russia these days, as yet new troubles are making both the present and future ever more uncertain in the world's largest country. After a year of financial meltdown, Russians now face a widening Kremlin corruption scandal, a vicious political season in the competition to succeed President Boris Yeltsin next year and an expanding war in Dagestan.

Three explosions in 10 days, including two in Moscow that have left more than 90 dead, have instilled many Russians with new fears of terrorism and low-level paranoia about who may be responsible. It adds to the daily anxieties as they struggle to survive and worry about just where the country is headed.

"People don't have any hope," an 86-year-old great-grandmother said near Red Square. She refused to give her name. "They're humiliated."

NOWHERE TO TURN

There may be no more telling sign of the way many view the future than a new U.N. report that there are now more than twice as many abortions a year as live births in in the Russian Federation.

So far, Russians have found nowhere to turn. Yeltsin's infinitesimal public esteem has slipped even further since he and his family were implicated in allegations that Mabetex, a Swiss construction company, bribed high-level Kremlin officials to get lucrative contracts.

Officials are investigating charges that Yeltsin and his two daughters received cash and credit cards from Mabetex's chief, although Yeltsin denied the allegations in a phone call last week with President Clinton. Suspicions of Yeltsin's direct involvement have escalated what's being called the "Kremlin-gate" scandal, deepening public distrust as Russia moves toward the election next summer to choose Yeltsin's successor.

Meanwhile, allegations that Russian mobsters sent billions of dollars out of

the country in an international money-laundering scheme provide a bitter reminder that a corrupt elite controls most of the country's wealth.

"We see what was transferred abroad, and no one takes care of us," the wary great-grandmother near Red Square said. She generically blamed America, which pressed Russia to abandon its old socialist economic supports, for many of Russia's problems, then stormed away.

NO THEORY TOO ABSURD

Conspiracy theories abound. …

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