Buoyant Yeltsin woos war veterans

Russian election: Confident of youth vote, the President targets the elderly
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The Independent Online
Heeding the advice of his aides that he cannot afford to be complacent, Boris Yeltsin hit the campaign trail again at the weekend seeking to build on the slight advantage he gained in the first round of the Presidential election and secure victory in the run-off.

Meanwhile his Communist opponent, Gennady Zyuganov, appearing somewhat disoriented, announced he would brief the press but not travel any more between now and 3 July, leaving grass roots activists to campaign for him in the provinces. He is talking much about coalitions, suggesting he might like a consolation place in government if he loses the presidential race.

Confident that the younger generation will support him, Mr Yeltsin, who took 36.28 per cent of the vote on 16 June, set out on his latest tour to win over people old enough to remember the Second World War and those who are still nostalgic for the Soviet Union. He went first to Brest in Belarus on Saturday for celebrations to mark the 55th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Soviet territory.

Moscow has always made much of the anniversary of the defeat of German Fascism with parades on 9 May every year. But this was the first time there were such grand ceremonies in remembrance of the thousands who fell in the first hours of fighting because Stalin had purged the military in the 1930s and left his country unprepared for war.

In paying extra attention to the veterans, Mr Yeltsin was openly wooing the constituency of Mr Zyuganov, who won 32.04 per cent of the first round vote. Appearing alongside Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, Mr Yeltsin was also putting across the message that his policy of seeking economic integration among former Soviet republics is more realistic than Communist dreams of rebuilding the Soviet Union.

Then yesterday Mr Yeltsin toured Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsburg, a little enclave of Russia squeezed between Lithuania and Poland. He used the opportunity to promise glory and better conditions to naval officers in the port of Baltiisk and to issue warnings to Nato not to expand eastward and to the neighbouring Baltic states to respect the human rights of their ethnic Russian majority.

Here he was targeting the constituency of retired General Alexander Lebed, who won 19 per cent support in Kaliningrad compared with the 14.52 per cent he took nationwide to come third in the first round. Mr Yeltsin has co-opted him, making him his National Security Adviser.

Members of Yabloko, the party of the liberal economist, Grigory Yavlinsky, also have little love for Mr Yeltsin, largely because of the war in Chechnya. At a weekend congress they were trying to decide whether they could bring themselves to support him. Some 63 delegates said they would vote for the President, two promised their support to Mr Zyuganov and 87 decided to register a protest vote. Mr Yavlinsky himself gave conditional support for Mr Yeltsin.

Since Mr Yavlinsky came only fourth, with 7.34 per cent of the vote, and Mr Yeltsin is now co-operating with General Lebed, the economist, who is widely admired in the West, has lost much of his relevance to the election. He will be lucky if he is offered the job of Finance Minister in a new government under Mr Yeltsin.