Moscow Braces for Tough Line From US Republicans in Congress

THE Republican sweep of the United States Congress has officials and analysts here biting their nails, not least because of the clout that conservatives such as Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina now enjoy.

``The personalities in the Republican Party that have now occupied the key posts are well-known as aggressive conservatives, opponents of the former Soviet Union, and of disarmament, cooperation, and many other things,'' worried Georgy Arbatov, head of the USA and Canada Institute here.

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Helms ``will be in a wonderful position from which to exert pressure on the State Department,'' which has until now sympathized with Russia's problems, wrote Izvestiya's Washington correspondent, Vladimir Nadein.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin said earlier this week that he expected ``a certain toughening on the American side over foreign-policy issues and military problems.''

But he added that his government now planned to ``establish good contacts with the Republicans in order to even out relations'' after two years of close contacts with President Clinton.

Good contacts may be hard to develop with Helms, however. He has long advocated cutting US aid to Russia, and allowing Moscow's former Eastern European allies to join NATO quickly.

Commentators here saw signs of the new Washington mood in Mr. Clinton's decision last week to withdraw from enforcing the international arms embargo against the Bosnian government.

This bid to appease Republican opponents of US involvement in foreign conflicts ``shows that the potential for conflict in our relations [with Washington] is quite considerable,'' warned Andrei Kortunov, an expert on US affairs.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman called the Bosnia move ``regrettable and worrisome.'' But a commentator in the daily Sevodnya argued that ``Clinton can be excused by the Democrats' defeat in the midterm elections: The president does not want to get into a conflict with Congress unless there is an extreme need.''

Many here worry that a less sympathetic Washington could have a damaging effect on Russia's future.

``The Russian leadership's greatest strength until now has been the strong, if concerned, support of the West. This is now probably coming to an end,'' warned Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of the influential Nezavissimaya Gazeta.

``The Democrats' defeat in the US elections will necessarily oblige Clinton to toughen his line toward Russia in general and toward today's Kremlin policies in particular,'' he predicted.

And if the US turns its back, if former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe join NATO quickly, if Germany loses interest in Moscow now that Russian troops have withdrawn, ``Russia will be sucked into the whirlpool of international isolation,'' Mr. Tretyakov worried.

RUSSIANS alarmed by the prospect of a harsher US policy towards Moscow also claim that it could play into the hands of extreme nationalists here.

``If [ultranationalist Vladimir] Zhirinovsky is right, and the mere fact of being confrontational against America makes a person a leader in Russia, then US policy toward Russia requires quick and decisive reconsideration,'' argued Mr. Nadein in Izvestiya.

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