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Yeltsin's Foes Not Leaning Toward Violence, Nixon Says : Russia: Ex-President sees no struggle for a return to communism. But he has yet to meet radical Zhirinovsky.

March 09, 1994|CAREY GOLDBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Former President Richard Nixon, on a weeklong visit to Russia that includes extensive meetings with opposition leaders, said Tuesday that he is heartened that none of them appear to seek violence or a return to the old Soviet Communist regime.

"I find that they're unanimous in believing that the country is on the wrong course," Nixon said of anti-government critics ranging from the ousted vice president to the head of the Communist Party. "But what encouraged me is that I have not found any of the opposition leaders today . . . who want to change the situation by force or any of them who want to go back to what the situation was before the new Russian Revolution."

Nixon, a strong advocate of U.S. support for the Kremlin's reforms, has yet to meet with the most intimidating leader of the Russian opposition--ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, who emerged the favorite of fed-up voters in December elections.

That meeting may occur today, Zhirinovsky's spokesmen and Nixon's chief of staff said. But Nixon also may decide that it is more politically correct to meet with Zhirinovsky only after he meets with President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Both President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have pointedly spurned Zhirinovsky on recent visits to Moscow, refusing to add to his legitimacy by meeting him. He was the only opposition leader not to be invited to a special reception for Clinton at the U.S. ambassador's luxurious residence, Spaso House.

But Nixon's visit appears to provide Clinton with an unofficial channel to Zhirinovsky. Nixon told reporters that he talked to Clinton by phone before his departure and will deliver an assessment of what he found here upon his return.

What he has found so far, Nixon told reporters, is that "there is no question that the country is in trouble."

But, he said, he took it as a sign of Yeltsin's strength that the Russian government made no attempt to keep him from meeting with its opponents. "The fact that they did not resist that, I think, is a positive indication," Nixon said after a meeting with Gennady A. Zyuganov, head of Russia's Communist Party.

Nixon, 81, is also to meet today with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, and he is tentatively scheduled to meet with Yeltsin next Monday in the resort town of Sochi if the Russian president goes ahead with plans for a brief vacation there.

Nixon has visited Moscow nine times. But this trip comes at an unusually sensitive time, in the wake of a noticeable cooling in U.S.-Russian relations.

This cooling stems partly from Moscow's determination to reassert itself internationally and to play up to rising nationalism at home. The new Russian line, combined with the recent scandal surrounding the CIA counterintelligence chief who was caught spying for Moscow, has caused Washington to re-evaluate its Russia policy amid mounting questions about whether the United States should continue to supply Russia with aid. Clinton said Monday that he is concerned about Russia and the wave of nationalist extremism that "would make more difficult our future relationships with them."

Nixon appears to be trying to counteract the negative cycle in the making. He has used his status of senior statesman over the last two years to push for an array of U.S. aid for Russia, from food to a corps of managers to debt rescheduling. If America fails to cough up, he has warned, its leaders soon will face the embarrassing question "Who lost Russia?"

He has argued that Russia's fate will determine the next 50 years of world history and that the world must prevent "a new, more dangerous despotism based on extremist Russian nationalism" from replacing communism.

Zyuganov, after meeting with Nixon, said the message he sent to Clinton was that Yeltsin's economic reforms, if not modified, will "not only totally destabilize the situation in Russia but will also bring about a cataclysm of world dimensions."

Zyuganov also emphasized that Yeltsin's strongest backers, the Russia's Choice bloc, got only about 15% of the vote in the December elections and that the United States should not orient its policy toward politicians with such weak support.

Nixon is an ardent Yeltsin backer, but his agenda this trip shows that he shares the Administration's strategy of seeking wide-ranging contacts across the Russian political spectrum.

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