Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 62

President Boris Yeltsin will deliver his annual “state of the nation” address to the Russian parliament today. According to an advance copy obtained by a Western news service, Yeltsin will stress the need to push “the normalization of Russian-American relations” and arms control despite the war in the Balkans. In the Kremlin’s view, normalizing relations with NATO cannot be achieved until the Western alliance realizes what Yeltsin calls the peril of military action against Yugoslavia. Yeltsin also emphasized his intentions regarding market reform and state regulation. First, he will reaffirm the goal of creating a market economy, despite the setback of last August’s financial collapse. Second, he will restate the need for state regulation of the economy, with the caveat that a review of the results of privatization is not permissible. Third, he will accept partial blame for the failure of reforms, saying: “The country’s leadership itself has been largely responsible for cultivating among people high reform expectations and has not been courageous enough to acknowledge this for years.”

The main guarantee that reforms will continue, according to the advance copy of Yeltsin’s speech, will be to leave the constitution intact and to hold elections as mandated in the constitution. The constitution is not written in stone, Yeltsin says, and can be amended, but this should await a new president and State Duma, in view of the fact that the terms of both are almost up. The address includes a call for limiting the activities of extremist organizations in the walk-up to this year’s parliamentary vote and next year’s presidential contest, up to and including banning some extremist groups. Governors and local government bodies, Yeltsin asserts, should be elected while being required to observe the constitution and federal laws (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Associated Press, March 30). This would seem to be a rebuff to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who earlier this year said that governors should be appointed rather than elected, as was the case from the start of Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet tenure until 1997.