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Yeltsin Promises Tougher Policies

By Ken Fireman

In a speech aimed at keeping him in the center of his country's rapidly shifting political spectrum, President Boris N. Yeltsin Thursday promised Russians a stronger state, a tougher foreign policy and aggressive action to protect ethnic Russians in the other republics of the collapsed Soviet Union.

In a long-awaited address to a joint session of Russia's new Parliament, Yeltsin vowed to defend his controversial free-market economic reforms and fight to bring down inflation, drawing praise and sighs of relief from his beleaguered band of legislative supporters.

But he offered no specifics to back up that pledge - and coupled it with several gestures of compromise to his ultranationalist and neocommunist opponents who hold a majority of seats in the Parliament's more powerful lower house, the State Duma.

Yeltsin vowed to end "unilateral concessions" to the West on defense and security issues, to oppose any eastward expansion of the NATO alliance without Russian participation and to use Russian military strength to quell ethnic conflicts on the country's periphery.

"The main goal of our foreign policy is consistent promotion of Russia's national interests," he said. "The priority means toward this goal is openness and cooperation. But Russia has the right to act firmly and toughly when it is necessary. ... We must put an end to the faulty practice of unilateral concessions."

He promised that the state would become more active in regulating the transition to a market economy and in combating crime and corruption, which he called "the key problem of the year."

Yeltsin also avoided any direct reference to the Duma's decision Wednesday to challenge the president by declaring an amnesty for the perpetrators of the 1991 coup and last October's anti-government revolt. Yeltsin supporters and aides continued to denounce the amnesty as legally invalid and an invitation to renewed civil conflict, but the president confined himself to one oblique comment that "social conciliation is not all-forgiveness.

Despite the overtures, there was little immediate indication that Yeltsin had won over any opponents. There was polite and restrained applause for him at the start and finish of the speech, but none during the 49-minute address. Afterward, many legislators criticized it as too long, too general and too lacking in specific proposals.

"No news here," said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party. "They (Yeltsin and his aides) have no concept of development. They are afraid of what will happen in the future."