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For East Europeans, Relief Comes with Warnings

July 4, 1996

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ For Moscow’s former satellites in Eastern Europe, relief at Boris Yeltsin’s electoral victory is tempered by the president’s precarious health, the Communists’ continued strength and the rise of Alexander Lebed.

And even though Russia has now rejected the Communists, Yeltsin’s vow to make his country great again has a familiar _ and frightening _ ring in this part of the world.

``The world may rest easy, but only for a moment, with Yeltsin’s election victory,″ Hungarian Kremlinologist Agnes Gereben warned Thursday.

``We are waiting to see whether a country democratic on the inside will also have a democratic foreign policy,″ said Ilie Serbanescu, a Romanian economic analyst and television commentator.

During the Russian election campaign, most East European leaders made clear that they preferred the incumbent to his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov.

Although many are former Communists themselves, they have no desire to return to Russia’s stifling embrace. During Yeltsin’s tenure, the countries in this region have managed to increase the distance between themselves and Moscow, expanding the economic and political independence they won under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

They also have strengthened ties with the West, redirecting their trade and jostling to be first in line to join the European Union and NATO _ the definitive signs of membership in the Western club.

Most important, they see membership in such institutions as an important guarantee against Russian expansion.

Adam Michnik, a former Polish dissident who is now editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s main newspaper, wrote Thursday that despite Yeltsin’s victory, Russia’s Communists remain strong and its democrats weak. Yeltsin is not well, he wrote in the editorial, and the ascent of Lebed, the gruff former general Yeltsin appointed security chief, is not necessarily good news.

For Romanians, who know Lebed from his former leadership of Russian army troops stationed in neighboring Moldova, the election results are troubling.

``The only new thing in Russia is that Yeltsin has as a close aide a character like Lebed. He is very dangerous,″ said Radu Budeanu, a columnist for Romania’s Ziua newspaper. ``Lebed, who is a soldier, will be more interested in regaining the former influence over Eastern Europe and also won’t allow NATO to extend near Russia.″

Stojan Cerovic, a columnist for Yugoslavia’s independent Vreme magazine, said the biggest concern was Yeltsin’s health.

``It’s possible he will not live much longer, and a power struggle after him could be horrific,″ Cerovic said.

Yugoslavia’s late Communist leader Josip Broz Tito kept his country out from under Russia’s thumb. But Tito’s Communist federation collapsed in nationalist war, and Serbs, who dominate the new, smaller Yugoslavia, look to Russians to support their Orthodox Slav brethren.

Cerovic said Yugoslavia’s leadership had preferred Zyuganov, although after signing the peace accord for Bosnia late last year, ``they probably realized they better give up relying too much on Russia.″

Officials in most of Russia’s former Soviet neighbors cheered Yeltsin’s victory Thursday. Many had feared a victory by Zyuganov, who preaches a ``voluntary″ resurrection of the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the election means that ``Russia has pushed away the past.″

And Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze called the re-election of Yeltsin ``a unique contribution to the victory of world democracy and burial of totalitarianism.″

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