Yeltsin Speech: The Answer to Russian Woes Is Strong State

IN a reach back to powerful traditions in Russian history, Boris Yeltsin told the combined houses of the parliament yesterday that a strong Russia can only come from a strong Russian state.

Despite occasional references to ``reform,'' the Russian leader left little doubt that the era of free market liberalism associated with the young reformers who entered the scene two years ago is over.

``As long as we have a weak state,'' Mr. Yeltsin said in his address, ``there will be no order and stability in the country.''

Such talk was calculated to please the parliament, particularly the lower house, or State Duma, where Communists, nationalists, and moderate reformers hold sway. Yeltsin avoided responding directly to the Duma decision the day before to give amnesty to the plotters of the 1991 hard-line Communist coup and the militant defenders of the old parliament, who were jailed after the battles of last October.

The tone of Yeltsin's address was most assertive when he turned to foreign policy. Russia's passivity in defending its interests would end, Yeltsin pledged, citing the Russian initiative in Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example of what was to come.

``Russia is not a guest in Europe, but a full participant in the European community, with an interest in its well-being,'' he said. Yeltsin spoke little of friendship with former foes such as the United States, referring instead to the need for ``equality.'' Yeltsin warned against any expansion of the NATO alliance to the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union without Russia's approval.

Yeltsin also made it clear that the down-sizing of Russia's military is coming to a halt. ``We will put an end to the practice of unilateral concessions,'' he said sharply.

Asserting Russian preeminence among the independent nations of the former Soviet Union, Yeltsin called for further steps to reintegrate those nations into a common economic and security system. ``The euphoria of free sailing in the stormy sea of independence is over,'' he said.

At the same time, Yeltsin pledged to defend the 25 million Russians living in the former Soviet states. ``Russia has the right, if this is required by the defense of legitimate state interests, to act firmly and toughly when this is really necessary.''

In his speech, Yeltsin offered this prescription for every Russian problem, from crime to economic policy to the Balkans. Summing it up, the president asserted that the ``strengthening of the state is an indisputable goal which can unite all Russians in this dramatic period.''

Such an approach is deeply rooted in Russian history. Reformers from Peter the Great to the Bolsheviks sought to use the state, mobilized and modernized, to drag the nation forward. But as Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russia's free market reforms, recounted in a recent article, ``the ideology of reform which we started in 1991 was quite the opposite - to revive the country ... by loosening the state grip and reducing state structures.''

While Mr. Gaidar celebrates the ``invisible hand'' of the marketplace, the president retorts that ``freedom is not enough. Our task is more justice, more security, and more confidence in tomorrow.''

Yeltsin's speech certifies that the former Soviet Communist Party veteran has left the camp of the young Westernizers and returned to more familiar ground. His views on the economy bear the imprint of his prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, a former Soviet gas industry boss who advocates a more state-directed course toward a market economy.

The president now calls for ``state regulation compatible with a market mechanism.'' In practice, he explained, the government will liberalize export controls on one hand, while strengthening state controls over the most valuable exports - oil and other raw materials. It means continued state support for industry, but only for ``priority industries'' such as the defense sector. He calls for encouraging foreign investment but protecting ``the interests of our domestic entrepreneurs both in the home and foreign markets.''

On controlling inflation, Yeltsin pledged to use his considerable constitutional powers to stop excessive spending. But reforms, he said, cannot be continued at too high a price for ordinary people.

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