Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Zigs While Russia Zags

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Zigs While Russia Zags

Article excerpt

Boris Yeltsin is in a snit. He canceled a date with Richard Nixon in Moscow because the former president dared to visit the recently freed Alexander Rutskoi, as well as the Communist Party chief and a motley assortment of Russian politicians, reformers, putschists and shovists, all lusting after Yeltsin's job.

"I am glad President Clinton supports this position," huffed the Russian president, apparently overinterpreting a sympathetic cluck from Bill Clinton over the phone.

To American reporters, Clinton mildly indicated otherwise.

Ironically, Clinton will have his own seeing-Nixon problem after the former president returns this Friday. On one hand, Clinton sorely needs a bark-on, politically savvy assessment of the cast of characters vying for power in Moscow; a Nixon briefing would also show a Clinton interest in foreign affairs.

On the other hand, the White House spin doctors - constantly murmuring the mantra "Whitewater Ain't Watergate" - are frozen in horror at the prospect of a picture inviting wags to caption "Tricky to Slick: Try Modified Limited Hangout Route."

What to do? The split-the-difference photo op will probably be of Clinton listening intently to Nixon's report over the phone.

More important, what to do about an American policy toward Russia that has been overtaken by events? That's a subject that has been seeking a new consensus ever since December's democratic election derailed economic reform and put empire-revivalists within striking distance of power.

In a nutshell, Clinton is still zigging while Russia has zagged. We cannot talk of aid toward a market economy while Russians reject the rudiments of private property and contracts, nor sign accords about "strategic partnership" while Moscow issues stern warnings to nations reaching for NATO protection.

Nor can we reinvent the cold war, lest that quash the enlightened Russian minority's hopes for democratic progress, or lest simplistic neo-containment encourage an amalgam of nationalists, militarists and mafiosi.

The administration that talked with such fervor about "change" now finds itself requiring basic change of early-'90s changes, or at least a major course correction, but is fearful of making a historic mistake. …

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