Clinton tries to reassure Yeltsin: Shadow of Zhirinovsky looms over a summit that should have been an occasion for celebration

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WITH the worrying rise of Russian nationalism at the back of both their minds, Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton used the first day of their Moscow summit yesterday to reassure each other about their relationship.

Mr Yeltsin told the US leader he was determined to press on with economic reforms despite the success of the far right at the polls last month. Mr Clinton expressed the West's continuing support for this policy, as well as promising Russia that it would not be isolated by Nato's search for new ways of ensuring security in Europe.

The summit, building on the Presidents' happy meetings in Canada and Japan last year, should have been an occasion to celebrate, had Russia's democrats met the expectations of both the Kremlin and the West and done well in the elections. But instead Mr Clinton's visit has been overshadowed by the success not only of old Communists but also of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his anything-but-liberal Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The US leader will not meet him, which Mr Zhirinovsky says will only boost his popularity. 'He (Clinton) supports political bankrupts and not forces who will be in power in two years,' sneered the LDP chief before going into the State Duma (lower house of the new parliament).

But if Mr Zhirinovsky has spoilt the mood, Ukraine has provided some compensation by promising to give up its share of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. President Leonid Kravchuk will be in Moscow today to provide the satisfaction of an arms deal, although it remains to be seen whether nationalists in the Kiev parliament will ratify it.

The first round of the bilateral talks in the Kremlin yesterday centred on Nato's Partnership for Peace plan, adopted in Brussels earlier this week as the best formula for allaying East European fears about Russian nationalism without making Russia feel it was being cast in the role of potential enemy.

'I have just come from a set of historic meetings . . . which make it clear that Russia and the United States must work together to build a new future for Europe, on which a new future for our entire world depends,' said Mr Clinton. 'I believe together we can work to lead a new security for Europe based on democratic values, free economies, the respect of nations for one another.'

Moscow has cautiously welcomed Partnership for Peace, which offers former Warsaw Pact members, including Russia, the chance to co-operate with Nato instead of giving the Poles, Czechs and others quick membership, which the Kremlin opposed.

After a brisk walk in the Kremlin grounds, Mr Yeltsin and Mr Clinton resumed work with a discussion of Russian economic progress. The US leader also visited food shops around the Lubyanka, the old KGB headquarters, to see Russian capitalism in action for himself. A key Yeltsin aide, Oleg Lobov, said Mr Clinton had been assured that 'there can be no talk about any slowdown in the pace of reforms'.

As if to underline his determination, Mr Yeltsin issued a decree retaining the Privatisation Minister, Anatoly Chubais, as a deputy prime minister. Mr Chubais is deeply unpopular with Russian hardliners, and it had seemed likely he would be sacrificed in a cabinet reshuffle due to be announced next week. But other reformers, most notably Boris Fyodorov, the Finance Minister and main advocate of resisting the inflationary temptation to spend on welfare, are still not sure of their positions. This uncertainty is forcing down the rouble, trading yesterday at a record 1,335 to the US dollar.

Mr Clinton, who prayed in a Russian Orthodox church for his lately deceased mother and dined with Mr Yeltsin at his dacha in the evening, was full of encouragement for Russian reforms and promised substantial Western backing. But it seems the US has in mind to speed up aid already offered rather than to pledge more, which could play into the hands of nationalists feeding off Russia's poverty and humiliation.

Leading article, page 15

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