These are grim and perilous days for Russia, and worse may be coming. President Boris Yelstin's unmistakable physical and mental decline has left him incapable of functioning effectively. In Moscow, the new prime minister and finance minister concede they don't have a clue about how to manage the deepening economic crisis. And now Russia faces its worst harvest since the 1950s. Already heavily dependent on food imports, Russia has had to alert the European Union, the United States and Canada of its need for huge emergency shipments of grain, meat and other commodities, as well as medicines.
That help should be given, first because it is a humanitarian necessity, but no less because the West would be damaging its political interests if it fails to act. Unrelieved food shortages over the coming winter could prove the precursor of a radical political upheaval that would be likely to see power pass into the hands of ultranationalists and communists. In recent years, as Yeltsin's grip on power has weakened, the West has found Moscow harder to work with than in the heady days of international amity that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. If radical forces take power in Russia, a new era of confrontation would loom.