SOME analysts see in him a future Bonaparte. Others play down his importance. But almost all agree that by voicing criticism of the Yeltsin government, Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi has positioned himself as a politician with his own agenda.
A careful study of General Rutskoi's recent statements, however, shows that the American media misrepresent him when they equate the vice president with the communist plotters now indicted in Moscow. He turns out to be a much more appealing and reasonable politician than journalists present him as being.
What is known so far in the West about Rutskoi is that in a Dec. 18 interview he said the Yeltsin economic reform caused Russia to enter "not the market, but anarchy." He complained about the intrigues of Boris Yelt-sin's aides that keep him isolated from the decisionmaking process.
It wasn't reported that the interview, at least two-dozen pages long, contains analyses and prescriptions that an increasing number of Russians find appropriate and attractive these days.
Let us make it plain: Rutskoi has pledged his absolute allegiance to President Yeltsin and pointed out that he had no plans of trying to unseat him. But the reality is that Yeltsin belongs to a specific type of politician that prefers action to thought. He was excellent in standing up against the coup last August. Nonetheless, all his political ideas and reform plans have always been borrowed from someone else. Therefore, his entourage has always played a crucial role.
So far, Gennady Burbulis, a former professor of Marxism from Yeltsin's native town of Yekaterinburg and a longtime member of Yeltsin's inner clan, has been acting as a kingmaker. This is something strongly challenged by Rutskoi, who has never served in the party apparatus.
This is why he could make a difference. Rutskoi can be credited with the first effort to bring a set of rules to the frail Russian democracy. The corrupt communist bureaucracy has always preferred no rules. "I say that democracy is, first and foremost, the law," he said.
Indeed, anarchy and lawlessness have become Russia's major handicap. Consider the following facts: Since his election last June, Yeltsin has issued about 300 decrees. Those carried out could be counted on one hand.
There is, for instance, a clear law in Russia that forbids bearing firearms without proper authorization. Yet in the autonomous republic of Chechen-Ingush, in the northern Caucasus, firearms have become household items. Nobody does anything about it. In that republic, an angry mob organized a "people's trial" of a local security officer empowered to carry firearms. What do you think he was accused of? Yes illegal possession of firearms." He was killed two hours later. Nobody did anything about that eithe r.
THE vice president's outrage over these and similar incidents is probably understandable to many Americans, who are serious about upholding US law and institutions.
Is Rutskoi really against private enterprise as some people say? Nothing in his past suggests so. On the contrary, he was one of the organizers of the Congress of Russian Businessmen in Moscow last year. He spoke against introducing the state of emergency in the crucial industries, a move that had been advocated by the last two communist-controlled governments. In his interview to Ogonyok, a reformist magazine, last May, Rutskoi called for the integration of Russia into the world's civilization. "We will
either follow universally adopted laws," he argued, "or the world will once again turn away from us like from a pest-infected slum."
Rutskoi is for a radical economic reform that would include privatization and liberalization of prices, as he says in his recent interview to Pravda. What he is against is ill-thought-through price hikes, not backed up by a wide-scale privatization and designed primarily to plug budget holes at the people's expense.
Taking into account his devotion to the rule of law, it would probably be fair to conclude that the Russian vice president's rise would help create better conditions for investment in Russia and for an orderly transition of the Russian society to a free market.
This is not to say that Rutskoi has no political flaws. He does - perhaps dangerous ones. While calling the communist empire "a thing of the past," he does not make it clear whether he has really accepted the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States on the territory of the former USSR. In his Pravda interview he spoke forcefully against "splitting the united mechanism of the armed forces." He gave no clue if he sees it possible for officers loyal to Russia to serve on the territory of Ukraine,
whose independence has been internationally recognized.
If the Russian vice president can modify his position and learn to respect other nations, he will do very well for his country.
Something about Rutskoi makes him very different from scores of other politicians that ruled his land in this century: He seems to be genuinely in love with his country and his people. And love is something Russia badly needs at this moment.