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A Russian Warns West on Communists

Politics: Ousted reformer urges foreign leaders to stop the party from regaining Kremlin.

February 20, 1996|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The last champion of economic reform in President Boris N. Yeltsin's Cabinet may have departed, but Anatoly B. Chubais has seized upon a new role as self-appointed siren warning against the perils of the "big Communist lie."

Edged out of the leadership last month as Yeltsin maneuvered to appease voters disgruntled by Russia's painful transition to a market economy, Chubais has embarked on a one-man crusade to discredit the resurgent Communist forces that are poised for victory in the June presidential election.

A Communist win would shatter Russia's economy within six months, provoke war and massive bloodshed and put this deteriorating superpower's nuclear button in the hands of hostile forces, the former first deputy prime minister warned in an interview with The Times.

In his most candid and forbidding comments since his Jan. 16 dismissal, Chubais insisted that Western leaders must do everything in their power to prevent the Communist Party's presidential candidate, Gennady A. Zyuganov, from gaining control of the Kremlin.

"The West should not allow him to lie to them," the liberal economist, 40, said Friday. "It is fundamentally important for the West to understand that there is a big Communist lie, and the West should react properly. The West should blockade the Communists in Russia. The West should say clearly and transparently what its attitude toward the Communists in Russia is."

Zyuganov and more reactionary elements in the once-omnipotent Communist Party are speaking openly about confiscating private property and promising state subsidies for food that would swiftly restore hyper-inflation, Chubais said.

He also noted with deep concern the party's talk of "voluntarily reunifying" the now independent states of the former Soviet Union--political mutterings that have already sharpened Russia's tensions with the Baltic states and Ukraine.

"How will you voluntarily combine Ukraine and Russia if the Ukrainians are completely against it? There is no way to do this without bloodshed," Chubais warned.

Most perilous for the prospects of domestic peace in Russia, he said, is the likelihood that a Communist leadership would try to renationalize property that the reformers managed to transfer to private hands over the past five years.

"I am sure that they will try to do it if Zyuganov becomes president of Russia," Chubais said. "But at the same time, I am sure there is no way to turn back.

"Russian businessmen and business leaders will choose one of two options: They will emigrate or they will fight to the end--not just the major bankers but thousands upon thousands of medium-size businessmen who own thousands of shops and restaurants all over the country.

"This is the private sector of the economy, and I am sure that if the Communists attempt to turn it into a state-run economy, there will be big bloodshed in Russia."

Reversing privatization would shatter recent economic successes, Chubais said.

"We began 1995 with 18% monthly inflation and ended the year with 3%. We had $1 billion in hard-currency reserves in January of 1995 and $12 billion by the end of the year. We started 1995 with a 14% decline in [gross domestic product] and finished with 3%," the architect of those efforts noted.

But he said those gains would be "very easy to turn back. You just start printing money, and it will immediately result in hyper-inflation."

Chubais predicted that the Communists, if victorious, would try to fix prices, emptying shops of regulated goods overnight. To lure farmers into turning over their produce for state sale, the growers would have to be paid subsidies that are not envisioned in the state budget. To pay for those subsidies and other promised improvements in the plight of those on low incomes, the leadership would have to print new money, setting in motion the destructive cycle of inflation.

Chubais also forecast a growing chill in East-West relations if the Communists come to power.

"I am sure that if Zyuganov wins, there is zero chance for a reasonable relationship between Russia and the West," he said.

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