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Then There's Russia

Now for that other "bear" - Russia, with its growls of failed reforms and furious factionalism. Can the Russian democratic experiment be salvaged?

Almost certainly, the task does not lie in the hands of outsiders. Bill Clinton's trip to Moscow is replete with encouragement for Russia's Boris Yeltsin and his teetering reform agenda. But there's little hint of a Western bailout. Western eyes are firmly fixed on wider economic challenges, of which Russia is a small, but key part.

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"Key" because Russia, for all its economic sputtering, remains the globe's largest nation in territory and sixth largest in population, the possessor of vast natural resources, and the repository of much of the world's nuclear weaponry. The US and other leading industrialized countries can't just turn away from Russia with a sigh.

That may be tempting now, as the Communist opposition in the Duma flexes its muscle by thwarting Mr. Yeltsin's latest governmental overhaul. The prime minister-designate, Victor Chernomyrdin, was ready to give the Communists a place in the Cabinet and trim Yeltsin's vast presidential powers. But the opposition wants something more - a return, partial at least, to the state-dominated system of the past.

That's a return to delusion. Free-market reforms are the only way forward. They have yet to be fully applied in Russia, and they have never been effectively sold to a skeptical public. That task awaits Russia's leaders, whoever emerges on top after the current fray.

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