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Russia vote sends shiver through Yeltsin's reforms

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOSCOW -- The chilling results of Russia's election continued to mount yesterday.

Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky -- an exuberantly unapologetic Russia-firster -- had tapped a deep vein of resentment and was on top of the Russian political world. From the Baltic to the Sea of Japan and beyond, millions who had never taken him seriously were waking up to the reality of disturbing Russian nationalism.

Their disquiet seemed at times to be bordering on panicky despair.

Mr. Zhirinovsky incongruously named Liberal Democratic Party had emerged yesterday as the strongest contender in elections to Russia's new state Duma, or lower house of parliament.

According to still incomplete returns last night, his party had taken 24.5 percent of the vote. The pro-Yeltsin, reformist Russia's Choice bloc was a distant second with 14.5 percent. The Communist Party of Russia was third with 11.3 percent, followed by its ally, the Agrarian Party, which received 8.8 percent.

Two other reform groups together got about 13 percent.

Complete returns are not expected until today.

Reformers branded Mr. Zhirinovsky yesterday as an incipient Adolph Hitler, who was capitalizing on the same sort of conditions here as existed in Germany in the 1920s.

They turned on each other as well, berating themselves for failing to forge a united front against him in the election campaign.

At the same time, representatives of the main pro-reform groupings were moving toward creating a coalition within the parliament to block what Yegor T. Gaidar, of the Russia's Choice TC Party, called "the serious threat posed by radical nationalist forces."

In fact, though, it is not certain at this point that they would have the numbers to do so -- even if they can bury their differences.

Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg, whose own party fared poorly in the voting, said he was taken aback by the "credulity and shortsightedness" of voters.

Russia's neighbors, too, were jolted by the support given a man who wants to restore the old imperial czarist boundaries.

"The world is facing the global threat of Russian imperialism," Bogdan Goryn, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, told the Interfax news agency yesterday.

The three Baltic nations agreed to a summit meeting tomorrow to discuss how to react to what they perceive as a very real threat, given Mr. Zhirinovsky promise to reunite all the parts of the former Soviet Union.

In Moscow, a grim Irma Norkina said, "It's terrible. It's simply terrible."

Mrs. Norkina, a 70-year-old retired teacher of German, whose father was taken away when she was 12 and later died in Stalin's camps, said, "I hate both fascism and communism. I don't want (( to live again under either.

"I felt so bad this morning, I can't describe it. I don't understand it. Does it mean people fail to understand what communism is, what fascism is?"

Premature speculation

And yet, some were asking whether there wasn't something a little premature in all this melodramatic anguish. Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev pointed out that the election results are still significantly incomplete.

The parties have been ranked by the number of votes received in a contest that will assign parliamentary seats by proportional representation. Yet only half the 450 seats in the Duma are to be filled this way.

The other 225 seats in the Duma will be filled by candidates elected locally. The federal council -- the parliament's upper house -- also is to be filled by local elections. But the results of the local elections to the Duma and the council were unknown at this point.

It is obvious that Mr. Zhirinovsky and his party will be a major force within the Duma -- but just how major may not be evident until the lower house starts meeting next month.

For example, Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, yesterday dismissed the prospect of allying with the nationalists.

"We have no common ground with those who seek Russia's expansion to the boundaries of the former Soviet Union," he told RIA news agency. "We are realists in our policies."

The new parliament, moreover, does not have a great deal of power under the new constitution approved by voters Sunday.

One political analyst, Dmitri Likhachev, told the Itar-Tass news agency in St. Petersburg that, as dangerous as Mr. Zhirinovsky nationalism is, it would have been much worse if he had not won entry into the Duma.

"There, he will undoubtedly be revealed as a bankrupt character," Mr. Likhachev said.

Mr. Zhirinovsky, 47, says he wants to be president someday, and his strong showing Sunday led some opponents to fear that he might prevail in presidential elections that once were scheduled for next June.

But at the Kremlin yesterday an aide to President Boris N. Yeltsin repeated that those early elections had been scrapped.

Nikolai Ryabov, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said the approval of the new constitution had been an "indirect" vote of confidence in Mr. Yeltsin. So now, early elections have been "automatically removed from the agenda," he said, and Mr. Yeltsin plans to serve out his full term until 1996.

Mr. Zhirinovsky seemed perfectly unperturbed by this news. At a quick press conference yesterday, he pointed out that he will be 50 in 1996, and could think of no better present than to become president that year.

The immediate job, he said, is to win parliamentary support for his own program: halting payment on Russia's debts; demanding payment from Russia's debtors, on pain of economic sanctions; turning the army loose against criminal gangs, and halting the conversion of military factories.

He was asked how his party had done so well.

The Liberal Democrats, he replied, are against destroying the state sector but "wholeheartedly support the private sector."

"We object to the dismantling of collective farms," he said, "but we support [private] farmers. We want a new foreign policy, but not of the kind pursued by the current leadership."

He also declared, "I am not a fascist."

If there is a little of the all-things-to-all-people about him, his supporters can forgive that.

"Of course, he can't live up to his promise to reunite this big country," said a retired woman who identified herself as Ludmila Georgevna, without giving her last name. "Of course, he's not a man of genius.

"But look at all the other candidates. They spend all their time enumerating our faults. Zhirinovsky gave us something we could reach for.

"And let me tell you. People don't know what fascism is when they compare him to Hitler. This is nonsense. Fascists are people who burn others in gas ovens.

"I don't trust the democrats one bit," she said. "My pension is so small now I can't afford to buy a single berry."

Vitaly Voropaev, a businessman, voted for the reform economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky, but he said he understood why so many Russians went for the Liberal Democrats.

"People voted for Zhirinovsky out of despair," he said. "Sometimes it's a characteristic of the Russian nation to be lost in the clouds. You can't look for common sense in this outcome -- it's just pure emotion."

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