THE world may or may not be a safer place after this weekend's nuclear security summit, but host President Boris Yeltsin certainly won Western endorsement for his reelection bid.
Leaders of the world's seven largest industrial democracies made little secret of the fact that they back Mr. Yeltsin in his struggle against Communist Gennady Zyuganov, who leads in polls.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl openly campaigned for Mr. Yeltsin. "What's bad about that?" he said, when asked if the summit could be seen as support for the Russian president.
Others went out of their way to buff Yeltsin's image. The Group of Seven involves Moscow in its political discussions, making a G-8, "in view of the personality of the president of the Russian Federation," said French President Jacques Chirac. No other Russian leader, he implied, could count on such acceptance by the West.
President Clinton was more cautious, while saying Yeltsin had done "a lot of good things."
But the fact that the eight-nation Summit on Nuclear Safety and Security was held in Moscow was itself the strongest endorsement of the "new Russia," which is pledging to cooperate on sensitive nuclear questions.
"It is amazing that the nuclear sphere, which used to be a symbol of East-West confrontation for so long, is now becoming a symbol of new cooperation and partnership," said President Chirac, who co-chaired the summit.
But even as Yeltsin welcomed foreign help to make Russian nuclear reactors safer, and to secure nuclear materials against thieves, Mr. Zyuganov portrayed that as capitulation to the enemy.
"A precedent for enforcing international guardianship is being created," the Communist leader wrote in Sovyetskaya Rossiya, a conservative daily. The summit, he said, was another example of "the West's traditional desire to take advantage of Russia's grave situation to destroy the last remnants of our nuclear strength."
The summit's achievements, meanwhile, were mixed. Most strikingly, the eight leaders declared themselves ready to sign a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that would outlaw forever any sort of nuclear explosion. The Russians had hitherto refused to make such a commitment.
Still outside that agreement, however, is China, which was not present at the Moscow summit. Yeltsin said he would raise the issue on his trip this week to Beijing, in hopes of bringing the treaty to fruition in September.
The summit also appeared to take another step toward the early closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, where an explosion 10 years ago this week caused the world's worst nuclear reactor accident.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, invited to the summit for a special session, reaffirmed his readiness to close the plant by the year 2000, providing that the G-7 provide $3 billion to pay for the decommissioning and to generate new sources of electricity.
The G-7, meanwhile, which promised the money in principle last year, seemed closer to actually finding the funds, Ukrainian deputy foreign minister Kostyantin Hryshchenko said. But President Kuchma continued to tie Chernobyl's closure to precise, signed agreements on the scale and timing of Western funding.
While focusing on Chernobyl, however, the summit leaders backed off earlier demands for the closure of all risky Soviet built nuclear reactors, and proposed instead that they be brought up to international safety standards.
That drew criticism from the environmental group Greenpeace. "No amount of investment can make these reactors safe," said Dima Litvinov, a Greenpeace official. "Rather than decrease the nuclear hazard inherent in Soviet-designed reactors, [the summit] has offered to prolong it."
Western estimates put the cost of bringing Soviet-made reactors into line with international safety standards at around $24 billion. International aid to help Russia and Eastern European nations do this work has reached about $1 billion since 1991.
THE eight world leaders, known as the "P-8" or "political eight," also approved a new international program to combat the theft and smuggling of nuclear materials, which might then be used to make a nuclear bomb.
Russia - dismantling its nuclear arsenal in line with arms-control agreements - possesses over 100 metric tons of weapons- grade plutonium, and 1,200 tons of highly enriched uranium, and has not yet decided what to do with this material. In the meantime, it is being stored.
The plans agreed this weekend include greater cooperation among the world's police and intelligence forces, and more efforts to share information on nuclear materials. But doubts persist about how much of the program will really be implemented.
In Russia, for example, the bulk of weapons-grade nuclear material is in the hands of defense-related establishments, under the control of the Defense Ministry. With morale, discipline, and pay levels all deteriorating in the Russian defense sector, many foreign experts say those sites are the most potentially dangerous.
But they are not even subject to control by the state nuclear regulatory commission, which is denied access to military-related facilities. Under those circumstances, critics worry, international controls will be hard to enforce.