A Lame Duck Summit?

As President Clinton headed to Moscow Monday for a summit with Boris Yeltsin, there's growing evidence within Russia that the two weakened leaders will do little to address that nation's growing economic and political problems.

President Clinton departed Andrews Air Force Base shortly after 3 p.m. EDT for the flight to Moscow.

At the same time within the Kremlin and in the parliament Friday, sources described things as "chaotic and full of panic," reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Threlkeld. And there's growing concern that if the present political vacuum continues, there will be a violent reaction from the Russian people, who are already beginning to suffer the effects of the country's economic tailspin.


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The Russian parliament voted down Yeltsin's hand-picked prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, prompting a standoff between the Russian president and hard-line communists.

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Yeltsin later re-submitted Chernomyrdin's candidacy, but the nation will essentially be without a government for at least another week.

The communists are insisting that before confirming Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin must agree to resign as soon as there is a new government and the vast powers of the Russian presidency be transferred to the parliament.

The communists want a heavy presence in the next Russian cabinet. Yeltsin has said that he will re-submit his name for another confirmation attempt, perhaps next week.

Yeltsin's parliament envoy Alexander Kotenkov warned the opposition that both sides could be swept aside if there is no swift action to end the crisis.

"If this chaos lasts for several more weeks, it may happen that there will be neither communists nor us," he said. "I mean a popular uprising, merciless and senseless."

Some communist leaders said they were not afraid of government threats to dissolve the legislature, because they were confident of winning the elections that would follow.

The government insisted it remained in control and that work on tackling the country's economic crisis was going ahead. "It is business as usual for government headquarters," said government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov.

Clinton aides acknowledge that the two-day summit represents something of a gamble. But the president himself says keeping thdate with Yeltsin is an important signal of U.S. confidence in Russia's evolving democracy.

Speaking at a suburban Virginia school before departing for Moscow, President Clinton said: "What I want to do is to go there and tell them that the easy thing to do is not the right thing to do. The easy thing to do would be to try to go back the way they did it before, and it's not possible."

But many in Washington would rather see the president cancel the trip. House Speaker Newt Gingrich called on Mr. Clinton to stay home Friday. With both leaders in vulnerable positions, Gingrich suggested they may make unrealistic promises to boost their political capital.

President Clinton's Moscow visit begins a six-day trip that also takes Mr. Clinton to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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