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Officials Criticize Clinton Policy on Russia

October 27, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For the Clinton administration, a lot is riding on Boris Yeltsin’s health. Too much, say critics of its Kremlin-oriented policy toward Russia.

Only days ago in Hyde Park, N.Y., Yeltsin and President Clinton embraced and joked and suggested there was no problem between their two countries that they couldn’t resolve.

Then Thursday, Yeltsin was rushed to a Moscow hospital with a recurrence of the heart problem that left him hospitalized for nearly a month last summer.

Clinton and Yeltsin said they were in ``complete agreement″ on the difficult question of the role Russian troops might play in a peacekeeping operation in Bosnia. They didn’t describe the agreement. The details, they said, would be worked out by defense officials of the two countries.

They also pledged anew to press their legislatures for ratification of the START II arms control treaty. It’s a pledge they make every time they meet. So far, the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma have not responded.

If the president of France fell ill, or the prime minister of Britain or the chancellor of Germany, Washington would express concern. But only in the case of Russia is there an impression the administration is holding its collective breath.

And for good reason. With the end of more than 70 years of Communist Party rule, Russia has entered a period of chaotic democracy. No one can be certain what the transition would look like if Yeltsin were unable to govern.

The immediate assumption is that Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin would replace Yeltsin. Vice President Al Gore has made Chernomyrdin a personal project. The two meet regularly, most recently in early October in Maine.

When Clinton went to Moscow last May to meet with Yeltsin, he was criticized for making the trip at a time when Russian troops were brutally trying to suppress a rebellion in Chechnya. The president made time on that trip to meet with Russian reformers in Moscow.

But the administration catches criticism for pursuing a Russia policy that is too closely tied to Yeltsin.

Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the Senate majority leader who yearns to succeed Clinton in January 1997, criticized the president for following a ``Yeltsin first″ policy.

Recalling the period when the Bush administration snubbed Yeltsin in favor of Mikhail Gorbachev, Dole said that ``just as it was wrong to place too much focus on Gorbachev in 1991, it is wrong in 1995 to ignore the fact that President Yeltsin has made serious errors.″

Of course, Dole’s criticism can be diminished by his ambition. It contains echoes of the words candidate Clinton used in 1991 when he criticized President Bush for ``favoring political stability and his personal relations with foreign leaders over a coherent policy.″

But critics of the administration’s Russia policy aren’t limited to Republican presidential candidates.

``We have to get away from the thought that top-down politics is the way to deal with another nation,″ said Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., who has criticized the ``romantic impulse″ of U.S. policy toward Russia since the end of the Cold War.

``Our future is not going to be tied to personalities, it’s going to be tied to our interests correctly expressed and hopefully pursued by all levels of the national government,″ said Bradley.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Donald M. Rothberg covers foreign affairs for The Associated Press.

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