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The Press : World Sizes Up a Key Week for Soviets

April 30, 1991

As Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev maneuvered through one of the more challenging seven-day periods in his six years at the top last week, the world's press took stock not only of him, but of his troubled country and his chief rival, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. A sampling of opinion:

"The raging attack of the conservatives on Gorbachev during the (Communist Party) plenum was a result of the growing feeling of slow but inevitable decline of the party's importance. It was not the Yeltsin-Gorbachev or democrat-conservative confrontation that was decisive, but more important was the conflict between the system, symbolized by the party that led the country to the crisis, and the society. The majority of the Central Committee members realized in time that Gorbachev's removal today would lead to violent confrontation with the people tomorrow. . . ."

-- Gazeta Wyborcza , Warsaw

"Gorbachev is more and more switching to behind-the-closed-doors activities. If he appears always tired and exhausted, he appeals: 'Give me more time! You'll see, it's going to be fine!' . . . The destabilization in the Kremlin has become fact, regardless of the result of the duel between Boris the Great and Mikhail the Clever."

-- Przegland Tygodniowy , Warsaw

"The worst possible fate for the Soviet Union would be a return to the dark ages of authoritarian communism and the bureaucratic incompetence of the command economy. This would benefit only the careers of those hard-liners and army generals who are trying to turn Mr. Gorbachev into their political prisoner by undermining his leadership. . . .

"But Mr. Gorbachev's supporters are powerless to help him unless he takes decisive action to stand up to the most serious assault on his authority. A return to the strong leadership of his early days in power is needed if the drift toward economic collapse and hard-line dictatorship is to be stopped and the dramatic changes of the last six years preserved.

"The political balancing act of recent months is no longer a sustainable policy. Mr. Gorbachev has to take the lead in building a coalition with the other reformers. . . . His joint statement with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of eight other republics . . . could be a significant first step."

-- The European , London

"Boris Yeltsin is widely depicted as yearning to take supreme power, but rational calculation must surely tell him not to move too fast, and maybe not at all. Even if he could find some way of overcoming or converting the party apparatus, which still poses a formidable obstacle, leadership of the Soviet Union would probably turn out to be a poisoned chalice. The country is disintegrating with every sign of inevitability. Nobody in his senses would wish to go down in history as the last president of the Soviet Union. Much better to be elected president of the Russian republic. . . .

"With real power in Russia, backed by a popular mandate and support from the outer regions, Mr. Yeltsin could hope to push through reforms while the Soviet Union gradually becomes an empty shell, with or without Mr. Gorbachev at the top, since it would hardly make any difference. If, in the fullness of time, some new form of Soviet federation required a central figure, Mr. Yeltsin could expect to walk into the job."

-- The Independent , London

"Suddenly, there is hope in Moscow. The statement agreed between the leaders of nine republics--crucially including Mr. Boris Yeltsin of Russia--and Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president, offers the best possibility in months for ending the zero-sum games which have been the stock-in-trade of Soviet politicians. . . .

"This is a big step forward. Most of these republican leaders are increasingly powerful figures, so the deal, if it sticks, marks both a further coup for Mr. Gorbachev's political skills and an indication of their own sober sense that they must, in these hardest of times, hang together if they do not wish to choke separately. But it is Mr. Yeltsin's signature on the document with Mr. Gorbachev's which represents the main political breakthrough. . . . If the two most powerful politicians in the Soviet Union can suppress their personal dislike in favor of a political accord with clearly stated aims, the Soviet Union may have a period in which it can peacefully disunite."

-- Financial Times , London

"Gorbachev's perestroika has not been successful. In my opinion, two-thirds of the Communist Party members haven't gone through perestroika and still cling to old ideas. The Soviet Union appears to face a future of Latin Americanization: a lengthy military regime devastating the people's hearts and minds leading to the introduction of populism leading to an acceleration of inflation leading to suppression in both economics and politics. As long as this cycle is deeply rooted in the society, Gorbachev cannot draw an optimistic scenario for the future."

--Commentator Naoki Tanaka

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