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Boris! Boris!

ASIDE from Barbara Bush turning down a dance with Boris Yeltsin halfway through a state dinner honoring the Russian president (they danced later, following protocol) Mr. Yeltsin's summit with George Bush this week went as well as either side could have hoped - as well as any summit Mikhail Gorbachev participated in.

Yeltsin's trouble with hard-line generals in Moscow before the summit is more than explained by the extraordinary and historic nuclear reduction agreement he worked out with Mr. Bush. That he got it at all is significant - and bolsters the consensus view that Yeltsin is in charge in Moscow.

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Yeltsin was successful on two fronts: Showing good faith in dealing with the US and showing commitment to real reform in Russia. He did not have many cards to play but he played them all. He called to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn to come home. He brought secret Kremlin documents telling of Soviet inhumanities. He told of ongoing investigations into American POWs that were or even are in Soviet labor camps. Moscow must report quickly on these assertions. But Yeltsin's disclosures should not hold up the m ost-favored-nation trade status Bush wants to extend Russia, as some in Congress say.

When the first elected president of Russia became the first Russian head of state to address Congress, the outpouring of warmth - "Boris! Boris!" - for the hero of the August coup was real.

Still, warmth aside, relations with Russia are in a sensitive transitional period. It is not yet clear that Yeltsin can deliver on all his promises, either on the military or economic-reform side. The cultural contradictions in a formerly communist Slavic nation now adopting free-market democracy are considerable.

The nuclear cuts take place over a 10-year period. A lot can happen between now and 2003. The Russian Army is supposed to be out of Lithuania, but is not. Last week in the middle of arms talks, Russia agreed to sell missile technology to India.

Nor are prospects for economic reform bright. The Russian deficit is 25 percent of GNP. Oil production has dropped 1 million barrels a day. In reforming prices, and indeed the system, Russians can take only so much stress.

This is why the IMF must "give" a bit on its usual standards of austerity in making loans. Russia is not like Chile or Brazil, going through yet another reform. Its situation is unprecedented, and, as Yeltsin told Congress, "there will be no second try."

George Bush must take the lead in getting the US portion of Russia's IMF money through Congress. In an election year, Democrats need Bush to push the Freedom Support Act through.

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