MOSCOW — For two men who only days ago were accusing each other of plotting to unleash civil war, President Boris Yeltsin and former Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov are being remarkably polite to one another in the wake of last week's Rus-sian presidential elections. And as the electoral rhetoric dies down, Moscow's politicians are taking the first steps in a courtship dance between government and opposition.
There is no doubt, however, who is calling the tune. Mr. Yeltsin's convincing 13 percent victory margin means that his overtures to Mr. Zyuganov are as much an act of magnanimity as a bid to co-opt the opposition into supporting economic reforms, which are likely to go on being painful.
And the Communist-dominated "National Patriotic Forces" coalition, headed by Zyuganov, is being coy about hints that its members might take government posts, clearly afraid of being used as window dressing and deprived of real influence.
Only after "the government is formed and its makeup, platform, and key aims are known" will the opposition "decide whether the government deserves its participation," Zyuganov said on Saturday.
From the moment Yeltsin went on television the day after the July 3 elections, he has opened the door for Communists to take part in the new government that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has been asked to form. "In the new team there will be room for all in whom you have placed your trust," Yeltsin said.
But Mr. Chernomyrdin made it clear that his plans are a far cry from Zyuganov's vision of a coalition government, in which policies as well as personalities would merge. Instead, he will invite individuals as individuals, on Yeltsin's terms, not as representatives of opposition parties and their platforms.
"No coalition or coalition government is on the agenda," Chernomyrdin insisted after the election.
A persistent question, however, is who could effectively lead a Cabinet drawn from broadly disparate sources, which may include not only the nationalist-communist alliance but democratic opposition parties as well.
Though Yeltsin was back in his Kremlin office the day after the vote, his week-long disappearance from public view has naturally reignited worries about his ability to keep a firm hand on the tiller.
At the same time, suggests Michael McFaul, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center, the temptation for Yeltsin to relax will be strong. "You've destroyed Communism, you've destroyed the Soviet Union, you've been reelected - what do you do for an encore?," he asks.
"I'm really afraid that Yeltsin might go into quasiretirement and we will get the sort of Kremlin intrigue" that has festered in recent years, he adds.
Such infighting has already broken out.
Before the second round of the election, Yeltsin virtually anointed Alexander Lebed, his new security czar, as his heir apparent, drawing strength from the 11 million votes - 14 percent of the electorate - that Mr. Lebed won in the first round.
But Mr. Chernomyrdin, who has made a habit of being self-effacing for the greater good of his master, abandoned his usual placidity once Yeltsin was safely reelected.
"My powers are well known ... and I am not going to give away anything to anyone or to shift any of my powers to anyone," he said, in response to Lebed's suggestions that as Security Council secretary he should take a hand in setting economic policy.
Indirectly, the president too appears to be cautioning his protg, whose abrasive power grabs over the past three weeks have shocked his colleagues and local observers. "Those who do their job honestly, those who dedicate themselves fully to their job and do it well have no time for infighting," warned Viktor Ilyushin, Yeltsin's top adviser in a press conference on July 4.