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Yeltsin Says Presidential Vote Will Be Held in June

By Richard Boudreaux
Los Angeles Times
MOSCOW

President Boris N. Yeltsin chided his top security aide for urging postponement of Russia's June 16 presidential election and promised yesterday the vote will be held on schedule.

"I trust in the wisdom of Russian voters," Yeltsin told the Interfax news agency. "That is why elections will be held in the time determined by the constitution."

Politicians across the spectrum welcomed Yeltsin's pledge and scorned the advice of his security chief, Lt. Gen. Alexander V. Korzhakov, who predicted in two interviews Sunday that the election will push Russia toward violent conflict. But they warned that the threat to a fair election is not over.

Russia has held one democratic election in its history, when voters in 1991 elected Yeltsin, a Communist maverick-turned-reformer, in the dying months of the Soviet Union. Now the unpopular incumbent is fighting an uphill battle for re-election against the resurgent Communist Party.

Noting that the electorate is deeply polarized, Yeltsin said yesterday that "several people" agree with Korzhakov's view that a victory by Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov "would be the beginning of a civil war."

But he said he ordered his powerful aide "not to meddle in politics and not to make such statements anymore."

Despite the retort, many Kremlin watchers believe that Yeltsin must have cleared the remarks by one of his closest confidants, perhaps to test public reaction. Some speculated he wants to sow fear of unrest in the hope of persuading one or more of his rivals to drop out of the race and support him.

"I don't think it is profitable for Yeltsin to postpone the election, but his staff is preparing various scenarios," said Nikolai Petrov, a Russian political scientist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "For example, some of them are saying it would be easier to falsify the results than to call off the vote."

Other analysts said the presidential staff is split between those who believe Yeltsin can win a fair election and pessimists who agree with Korzhakov that Yeltsin needs to cut a deal with the Communists or put off the vote in order to stay in power.

A leading member of the optimist camp, Sergei A. Filatov, said yesterday that speculation about deals and delays is demoralizing Yeltsin's campaign workers at a time when their candidate is catching the Communist front-runner in most voter surveys.

"When there are positive dynamics, when [Yeltsin's] ratings are growing, such statements are harmful," Filatov said, commenting on Korzhakov's remarks. "It is wrong to slacken the pace of the electoral campaign. Our team is deployed and in a combative mood."

Yeltsin's violent dissolution of a hostile parliament in 1993 and the intensity of his anti-Communist message this year have fed doubts about his willingness to accept defeat. He harped on the campaign theme in the interview, saying: "Those who dream of the past, if they happen to grab power, will be prevented by nothing from establishing their own rules."

Retired army Gen. Alexander I. Lebed, a leading candidate among 10 others in the race, said he is still uncertain the election will take place, despite Yeltsin's assurances.

Zyuganov, meeting in Germany with political and business leaders, said he welcomed Yeltsin's statement but called for a meeting of all parties in the race to "sign an agreement that the outcome of the election as expressed by voters will be sacred."

Meanwhile, in a flashback to the Soviet era and the Cold War, Russia's Federal Security Service said Monday that an unspecified number of British diplomats were being expelled for spying after a Russian citizen now under arrest here admitted working for British intelligence.

British Ambassador Andrew Wood was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to hear a "stern protest" over what Russia believes is the use of his embassy as a cover for "illegal spying activities," a spokesman for the security agency told Interfax.