WITH the rise of Russian nationalism and images of the bear on the move again, some observers here believe that Washington is trying to distance itself from Moscow and refocus its attention on other former Soviet republics.
In the past few weeks, leaders of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Georgia have all met individually in the White House with President Clinton and received promises of financial support, although all three republics have been criticized for being even less democratic than Russia.
Mr. Clinton's increased contacts with these countries has angered some Russian observers, who worry that Washington is embarking on a new policy of encirclement, attempting to create new buffers of former Soviet republics around Russia.
``Washington has started actively distancing itself from Moscow and shifting the focus of attention to Kiev and [the Kazakh capital of] Alma Ata,'' political commentator Dmitri Yevstafyev wrote in an article titled ``Russia Faces the New Containment.''
``The `playground' of Eurasia is likely to get prepared for the new cold war,'' he wrote in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
On March 7, Mr. Clinton supported Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze in his bid to have United Nations peacekeepers in his strife-torn homeland, although the proposal still needs the approval of the UN Security Council. Clinton also promised $70 million in aid to Georgia, most of which would aid refugees fleeing civil war in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
In early March, after meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, Clinton announced he would double US aid to Ukraine to $700 million through 1995. The decision came after Mr. Kravchuk promised in January to give up the estimated 1,600 nuclear warheads on its territory inherited from the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
And last month, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev returned from Washington with an aid package more than three times the $91 million allotted the previous year. All in all, Western donors have pledged more than $1 billion to help Kazakhstan dismantle its nuclear weapons and ease the transition to a market economy.
Some Russians question American motives behind such generosity. Rather than real concern over a renewed Russian imperialism, many see instead a revival of US cold-war hostility.
Russian Parliament Speaker Ivan Rybkin, in Washington recently by invitation of the United States Congress, told the Interfax news agency that ``unnecessary difficulties'' were putting a strain on Russian-US relations. Commenting on the spy scandal involving double-agent Aldrich Ames, Mr. Rybkin said the two sides should ``make each other's intelligence agencies transparent to the other side.''
For its part, Washington is actively seeking to hedge its bets with Russia. Former US President Nixon is currently in Moscow, acting as an unofficial Clinton envoy and meeting with opposition leaders the US president refused to meet with when he was here for January summit talks.
On March 7, the former US leader had tea with former Vice President and parliament rebel leader Alexander Rutskoi, who was only just released from jail for inciting the attack on Ostankino television center last October, triggering a clash that killed 147 people.
Mr. Nixon also plans to meet ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, with whom Clinton declined to meet in January. On March 7, the extremist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party returned to Moscow after being refused entry to Slovenia for ``drunk and disorderly behavior.'' Mr. Zhirinovsky reportedly spent one night in the Ljubljana airport's VIP lounge before being sent back to Russia.