Nixon Meetings Create Furor Among Russian Leadership

RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin yesterday angrily cancelled meetings he and other senior government officials had scheduled with former United States President Richard Nixon following the latter's meetings with prominent Russian opposition figures.

Mr. Nixon began the week having tea with former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, only recently released by a parliamentary amnesty from prison, where he was awaiting trial for instigating a bloody uprising last October. On Tuesday, the ex-president had a long talk with Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Russian Communist Party. A meeting with extreme Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was also planned.

``I will not meet with Nixon, neither will the government meet with him, nor will [Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei] Filatov receive him,'' President Yeltsin told reporters yesterday at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kremlin Wall. Yeltsin claimed that US President Clinton did not support Nixon's meetings with Russia's hard-line opposition leaders.

Before his departure, Nixon consulted with Mr. Clinton about his visit and was reportedly going to brief the president about his impressions.

But President Yeltsin sharply contrasted Nixon's visit with Clinton's January summit here. At that time, Clinton did meet a wide number of Russian political figures at a reception hosted by the US ambassador, including Communist leader Zyuganov, but he pointedly avoided contact with extremist Zhirinovsky.

``What I like very much is that President Clinton immediately spoke out and said Nixon is there on his own,'' Yeltsin said yesterday, insisting that Clinton had distanced himself from Nixon. US Embassy officials here refused to comment on the Nixon visit.

Yeltsin clearly sought to use this incident to demonstrate, as he has repeatedly in recent weeks, a more assertive Russian stance, particularly toward the United States and the West.

``Former American President Nixon has met Rutskoi and Zyuganov while, interestingly, he came to Russia to meet me,'' Yeltsin said. ``Everyone should know that Russia is a great country, and one cannot play games with it.''

With Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev set to meet Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Vladivostok on March 14 to discuss cooperation in the Bosnia conflict, Yeltsin warned against efforts to undermine the Russian-US ``partnership.'' Those ties are ``a great gain which we achieved with great efforts, and we must not lose it,'' he said.

Nixon apparently had no inkling that his contact with various opposition figures would produce such ire. ``I think the implication of the strength of the current democratic government in Russia is the fact that they would allow me ... to come to this country and to meet openly with those who are in opposition, strong opposition,'' Nixon told reporters after his meeting with Zyuganov.

He said it was encouraging that hard-liners such as Rutskoi say they do not wish to change the situation by force. ``They want to continue on course but in a different way. That, I think, is a hopeful sign for the future.''

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