Rutskoi more popular than Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN'S political stature took a hard knock yesterday when he was overtaken in the polls by his conservative Vice- President, Alexander Rutskoi. When people were asked which politician they trusted most, 28 per cent favoured Mr Rutskoi and 24 per cent Mr Yeltsin. Previously Mr Yeltsin, who led the revolt against Communist rule, had been far ahead of any challenger.

The defeat may turn out to be more symbolic than a real test of the President's popularity, however, because the poll was carried out by a subcommittee of the Russian parliament, which is trying to assert its authority over him. Even so, it comes at an increasingly difficult time for the Russian leader. His popularity in all opinion polls has been slipping steadily since the beginning of the year, when he introduced his radical economic reforms. Yesterday Mr Yeltsin said he wanted a new constitution to be passed in 1993, granting him the continued right to rule by decree and appoint top officials to his cabinet.

He presented a list of eight proposals to a constitutional commission meeting in the Kremlin, among them the abolition of the Congress of People's Deputies, the highest legislature, which is sure to anger conservatives.

When Russians return from their summer holdidays to find unemployment and prices still going up, they are expected to focus their anger on Mr Yeltsin. At that point, Mr Rutskoi could become even more of a thorn in his side.

Mr Yeltsin remains the most popular politician in the big cities but Mr Rutskoi wins in the countryside and small towns. This may be partly due to his role in the government as the leader of the agricultural reform programme.

Allied with conservatives in the parliament, Mr Rutskoi's Popular Freedom Party is linked to groups backed by the powerful industrial managers. Although they agree with Mr Yeltsin's shift to the free market, they want the government to supply more credits to ailing industries and have caused trouble for Mr Yeltsin's young, radical economists.

The second peace-keeping force from the Commonwealth of Independent States moved into Moldova's Dnestr region yesterday in an effort to defuse the ethnic violence there.

After a deal between Russia, Moldova and the self-styled Dnestr republic, a force of five Russian battalions was due to be followed by three Moldovan battalions and two from Dnestr. The first CIS peace-keepers were sent this month to South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia.