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Parliamentary Candidate Confident of Reforms

Father Gleb Yakunin acknowledges pitfalls, but looks to the long run

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MOSCOW'S reliance on Western assistance, particularly from the United States, is being downplayed in the current campaign for Russia's Dec. 12 parliamentary elections, according to a popular legislative candidate.

``We cannot afford to tell [voters] `Don't worry, the West will help us' with our economic problems because we know it's not true,'' says Father Gleb Yakunin, a controversial priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who is running on a reformist ticket. Father Gleb is part of the Russia's Choice bloc headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. Mr. Gaidar's attempts to open up the Russian economy have been curbed by opposition from anti-reform lawmakers.

Father Gleb frequently travels to Washington where he keeps United States religious and political figures abreast of Russia's democratization process. These days it is not politically prudent to emphasize Russia's relationship with the US, he says. Voters recognize that ``neither the US, nor the West in general can help us to survive. We're realists.''

The lead organizer of Western financial assistance, the International Monetary Fund, has halted its loan activities in the former Soviet Union until leaders demonstrate a renewed commitment to restructuring the economy.

Harvard University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the top Western economic adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, says the West's retrenchment is damaging Russia's political and economic development. ``Since the breakthrough to new elections,'' he writes, ``reformers have had a strong hand,'' by slashing subsidies, tightening monetary policy, advancing privatization, and restraining runaway spending.''

Gleb, who expects to be swept into office, says he is optimistic that the reformers will triumph. They will work with President Boris Yeltsin to enact policies that will lure more foreign investment rather than promises for foreign aid. ``The main message of Russia's Choice is freedom, privacy and law,'' he says, adding that ``we really hope that the Americans, Japanese, and the Europeans will invest.''

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