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The 'Tremors' In Moscow, Still Felt in US

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It's been years since the Russian bear figured as the West's greatest adversary. But promotion of democracy and stability in the former Soviet Union remains a preeminent foreign policy goal of the US and its allies - so political unrest in Moscow does set alarm bells clanging from Washington to Bonn.

This doesn't mean that US officials think that President Boris Yeltsin's firing last week of his security chief, Alexander Lebed, foreshadows renewed conflict with Russia any time soon. In public, the Clinton administration has been circumspect about last week's events.

The tone was set by State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. It would be "inappropriate," he said, for the United States to comment on a purely internal Russian matter.

Rather, American officials have anxieties about both the immediate future and the longer range implications of Russia's present chaos. They worry that Mr. Lebed's firing, combined with Mr. Yeltsin's own poor health, might set off an old-style, undemocratic Kremlin power struggle. They're also concerned that Russian infighting will threaten the fragile cease-fire in Chechnya - and perhaps the stability of other nations formed from the parts of the former Soviet Union.

Moscow still controls thousands of nuclear weapons, after all. Most of them may no longer be literally pointed at the US - as President Clinton boasted in a recent debate with GOP nominee Bob Dole. But a hostile dictatorship could retarget them in minutes.

The Clinton, and previous administrations, have been criticized for vesting America's hopes and interests in one Russian figure - Mikhail Gorbachev during the final years of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin since. Rather, say the critics, the American emphasis should be on Russian constitutional restraint, economic reform, and democratization.


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