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In Search of That New World Order : Rumbles in Moscow unnerve the West

September 22, 1993

All happy families are alike, wrote Tolstoy--and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own fashion.

These days that famous line by Russia's most famous novelist surely is an apt description of the current state of the most famous portion of the former Soviet Union: Russia.

MUTUAL CONTEMPT: Tuesday was witness to the fiercest power struggle since the fall of Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin claimed he dissolved Parliament. For its part, the Russian Parliament claims to have stripped the president of his powers.

And in Washington no one seemed to know a whole lot about what was happening, even though Secretary of State Warren Christopher quickly offered a media briefing late in the afternoon so that it looked as if everything was being carefully monitored. And President Clinton let it be known that he spoke personally to Yeltsin by phone. That news and Christopher's briefing were helpful, but the troubling events in Moscow do raise a few questions:

--When the dust clears, will America be happy with the performance of its intelligence services? What did they know about this latest power play and when did they first know it? If they knew a lot, did they fully inform top Administration officials? If they did, those officials hardly acted as if the developments in Moscow were anything other than a surprise.

--Will America be happy with its emerging policy toward the former Soviet Union, which is based on the fullest possible support for Yeltsin over all others, and which requires significant American foreign aid for the very troubled post-communist Russia?

--Will the Clinton Administration be seen to possess a reasonably clear and coherent foreign-policy strategy that allows it to navigate through the inevitable stormy seas while managing to keep its basic sense of direction?

--And, finally, will Boris Yeltsin be left standing? Or bitter rival Alexander V. Rutskoi? Or someone even more ominous as far as the West is concerned?

MUTUAL DETERRENCE: Remind us: Who was it who said they missed the relative serenity and predictability of Cold War tensions? Well, not us; like almost all other Americans we were downright ecstatic when the hair-trigger system of mutual nuclear destruction was dismantled. And we hope that it stays dismantled.

But there are days, like today, when the term new world order seems like one of the funniest lines anyone has heard in a long time.

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