RUSSIA'S sullen conservatives were silent yesterday as a satisfied President Boris Yeltsin flew back into Russia from the Vancouver summit, where he secured a promise of a dollars 1.6bn ( pounds 1bn) aid and credit package from President Bill Clinton over the weekend.
Before leaving Vancouver, Mr Yeltsin said that his meeting with the new US leader had 'signalled a change from general statements about support for Russia to concrete, mutual, pragmatic projects', and his liberal Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, enthused that the summit had shown 'Russia has reliable allies'.
But there was not one word of comment from the chairman of the Soviet-era parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, or any of Mr Yeltsin's other hardline enemies. Newspapers are not published on Mondays in Russia and so the likely barrage of criticism from the conservative press about Mr Yeltsin having 'sold out' Russian interests will probably come today. The hardliners will be particularly angry that Mr Clinton not only declared his support for reform but quite specifically for Mr Yeltsin as the Russian politician most likely to achieve it.
Ordinary Russians were hardly rejoicing either at the outcome of the summit. They have become cynical about Western aid promises since a dollars 24bn package was supposed to be coming to Russia months ago but only a fraction of the money was actually paid out. 'It is humiliating that our great country, which used to give aid to places like Africa, should be receiving charity,' said Vasily, an engineer, in a typical comment. In the next breath, he added: 'Anyway, dollars 1.6bn is an insultingly low figure.'
And so it remains to be seen whether Mr Clinton's 'investment', not only in Russia but also in Western security, will tip the scales in Mr Yeltsin's favour in his debilitating constitutional struggle with parliament. The President lost no time yesterday when he made a stopover on his way back to Moscow in the Siberian city of Bratsk; he immediately began campaigning for the referendum on who rules Russia, which has been set for 25 April. 'I propose a simple formula for voting,' he told workers at an aluminium smelter. 'Go out and vote 'yes' to all four questions.'
The Russian people will be asked whether they have confidence in Mr Yeltsin, whether they support his economic reforms and two questions on whether they want early presidential and parliamentary elections. Mr Yeltsin has got his way in securing the referendum but parliament has made it almost impossible for him to win it by demanding that 50 per cent of the total population, not just half those taking part, must back him.
Perhaps with an eye to the hardline threat, Mr Yeltsin made one statement in Vancouver which disappointed liberals when he said that Russia's troop pull-out from the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia would depend on their treatment of their Russian minorities. The United Nations has already given these small, newly independent countries a clean bill of health on human rights. Yesterday they reacted angrily to what they saw as Mr Yeltsin's slur against them. 'The Estonian government interprets Russia's tactics of delaying the complete and unconditional withdrawal of its forces from the Baltics as an attempt to regain control,' said a statement from Tallinn, which was echoed shortly afterwards from Riga.
Tension also rose yesterday between Russia and Ukraine when the government in Moscow accused Kiev of striving to become a nuclear power instead of giving up its missiles as it promised to do when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
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