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Russian Crisis: US breathes small sigh of relief

WASHINGTON - As President Boris Yeltsin's parliamentary foes finally surrendered yesterday, a profoundly relieved Clinton administration was hoping that the bloody and apparently conclusive end to two weeks of confrontation will hasten Russia's course towards fully-fledged democracy and preserve the country as a unitary state.

As the crisis reached its climax, Washington has been unwavering in its backing for Mr Yeltsin, tacitly signalling its acceptance of the use of force, which officials here had increasingly come to see as the only way in which the showdown could be resolved. But that strategy could yet prove risky.

Central to the administration's calculations has been the assumption that the Russian armed forces would remain loyal to the Kremlin. In Moscow itself, that has proved the case.

'The US is obviously very relieved the situation has come to an end,' Strobe Talbott, ambassador- at-large, the State Department's top specialist on the former Soviet states, said yesterday. But there was still 'a lot of raggedness around the edges and that is a source of some concern'. Washington, however, was confident that the Yeltsin government would continue to consolidate its control.

According to Mr Talbott, five Americans had been wounded in the street fighting, including a marine guard at the embassy, only a few hundred yards from the semi- destroyed parliament building. He was out of danger, under treatment in a Moscow hospital.

The biggest relief, however, is that the provinces remain calm. Events, said Mr Talbott, had shown that Mr Yeltsin throughout had retained the loyalty of the armed forces and the key institutions of the state.

To underline its commitment to Mr Yeltsin, Washington plans to step up existing co-operation with Russia; it would be a period of 'business-as-usual plus', in Mr Talbott's words.