Sounding eerily like the Communists he is battling for control of Russia, President Boris Yeltsin delivered a somber annual address Friday that was devoted almost completely to blaming his own government for the tide of problems that have afflicted the nation since he became its leader.
Speaking before a Parliament that has come to be dominated by his Communist and nationalist opponents, Yeltsin, 65, did not smile once during an hourlong speech in which he seemed more interested in appealing to those disaffected with his presidency than in explaining why the difficult course of reform is the right one for Russia.
“We have come to the edge of that dangerous line beyond which fatigue and mistrust may outweigh people’s fortitude and hope,” Yeltsin said in a speech broadcast across the country on Day of Defenders of the Fatherland, a patriotic holiday in the Soviet Union that has become a patriotic holiday in Russia.
“The government will either carry out its duty to defend the social and economic rights of the people or another government will do it,” he said, alluding in part to his growing willingness to get rid of members of his Cabinet and in part to the presidential election in June, in which the Communist Party could regain its leadership of Russia.
Yeltsin spoke so insistently like an outsider instead of an establishment leader seeking re-election - railing against government corruption, denouncing the many false steps in the Russian reform program, and directly attacking the nation’s military leadership - that his main opponents were both delighted and confused.
“At least a third of the speech has been copied from Communist Party documents,” said the Communist leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, a presidential candidate who is doing much better than Yeltsin in public opinion polls. “But I did not hear any real recommendation for ways to overcome the country’s present complex and tragic situation.”
Yeltsin took a tentative step toward an election strategy that will stress his ability to create a gentler Russia in a second term, a place where free market reforms continue but where the harsh austerity of the first few years will be relaxed.