Yeltsin Stays the Course On Market Reforms, but Offers to Soften the Shock
RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin pledged not to roll back his tough economic reform policies despite the strong support given antireform parties in last week's parliamentary elections.
``The government that we have now stays,'' Mr. Yeltsin told reporters in his first public statement since the Dec. 12 vote. Looking relaxed and confident, Yeltsin tried to paint the election results in the most positive light, focusing on the slim passage of the new Russian constitution rather than on the beating reform parties took in the vote at the hands of extreme nationalists and ex-communists. (Is Russia ripe for fascism? Page 2.)
Yeltsin's message was that his power, now enshrined in a constitution that provides for a strong presidency and a weak parliament, is the insurance that Russian foreign and domestic policies will not change. He denounced ``any form, overt or covert, of extremism, aggressive nationalism, and fascism,'' referring to the strong support shown by voters for the extreme nationalist party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Yeltsin also tried to calm fears, widespread here and in the West, that the elections showed a growth of neo-fascist forces similar to those which rose in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. ``I think such comparisons are unjustified,'' he said. While some conditions - economic collapse and hurt national pride - are similar, ``we have something the Germans didn't have: We have a president and constitution which will protect the people from fascism.''
But despite that apparently reassuring message, the Russian leader was noticeably careful in avoiding a direct denunciation of Mr. Zhirinovsky or his public statements. And he indicated a readiness to shift the Russian government's economic policies to accommodate the social welfare needs of people impoverished by reforms.
``So far we've just heard Zhirinovsky's words,'' Yeltsin said. ``Let's look at deeds, his and those of his party, in the parliament, and after that draw conclusions about how to interact with him.''
President Yeltsin's pledge that foreign policy will remain unchanged until the end of his term in 1996 was also carefully nuanced. Speaking on the future of relations with the United States, Yeltsin said: ``We would like to be equal in everything, like two great powers. But some concessions humiliate the patriotic feelings of the Russian people.''
In response to a question, the Russian leader backed the continuation of the radical economic reforms and their architect, Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar. ``Gaidar remains, therefore his course stays too,'' Yeltsin said, although he also signaled that a reshuffle is in the offing.
And the emphasis of reforms will shift. ``I, as president, see social protection of the people as the No. 1 priority,'' Yeltsin said, explaining that increases in social benefits would be balanced with the fight against inflation.
Yeltsin refrained from placing blame for the election results on the reformers, who were split into four major parties. But he said he would now move to form his own ``presidential party.''
The Russian president also remarked on his decision Tuesday to reorganize the Russian Security Ministry, the successor to the infamous KGB secret police, calling it the ``last stronghold of the former Soviet totalitarian system.''
Yeltsin said that counterintelligence functions will still exist and, according to reports, other parts of the KGB are being transferred to his personal Kremlin Guard.