THE summit between the leaders of the world's two premier nuclear powers was carefully scripted to be a limited success. In this sense, Vancouver went according to script. Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrived as the weakened leader of a country in crisis. With a snarling nationalist Congress watching, Mr. Yeltsin could not be seen as too friendly with Washington; yet neither could the leader of a former empire be humbled.
President Clinton adjusted for his counterpart's domestic pressures accordingly. For the most part, Mr. Clinton seemed to do so well. The tone was properly subdued. Clinton directly supported the reform process in Russia, and indirectly supported Yeltsin. That is about as much as could be expected. Clinton "bowed" to the Russian leader by apologizing publicly for various "irritations" Yeltsin brought up - limited trade access and an incident last year when a US submarine bumped a Russian sub. The two men
also optimistically declared a new "partnership," even if for the foreseeable future the relationship will be quite one-sided.
The underlying message of the summit from the White House is that what is good for the Russian economy is good for the US as well. There is truth in this. Much of the $1.6 billion US aid will be spent at home for agriculture. Essential areas were targeted: housing for officers stationed in the Baltics, financial aid to ex-Soviet nuclear scientists who ought not to be advising small governments, helping Russia extract and transport oil. Tangible help is stabilizing - a security benefit.
That is why the United States must continue to push its allies hard. The US must secure more help for Russia at the mid-April emergency G-7 summit, just prior to the Yeltsin's referendum.
Yet problems with Russia are more serious than the subdued summit suggests. What needs attention is dismantling nuclear weapons. Moscow says progress can't be made on START without Ukraine. Kiev has legitimate concerns about Moscow, and feels it has been had by the West.
That Yelstin can't lessen tensions between Russia and Ukraine since nationalists would object sheds light on the deeper problem. Clinton must still try to get all the sides to talk.