Targeting Russia's vast military electorate and nationalistic voters, President Boris Yeltsin promised Sunday to strengthen the navy and shore up the nation's status as a military power.
But with less than two weeks until the presidential runoff between Yeltsin and Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov, the president received only halfhearted backing from a key pro-reform group.The liberal Yabloko group, whose leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, finished fourth in the first round of voting, said it would support Yeltsin in the July 3 runoff only if he showed a greater willingness to meet its demands, Russian news agencies reported.
Only 63 of the 152 delegates to a two-day conference voted Sunday to back Yeltsin, while two voted to support Zyuganov and 87 to vote against both candidates - an option in Russian elections - independent NTV television said.
Delegates said that in exchange for their support, they wanted Yeltsin to promise to end the war in Chechnya, continue reshuffling the government, adjust economic reforms and amend the constitution to reduce the president's vast powers.
Yeltsin's 24-hour campaign trip was his first since the first round of voting. After visiting Belarus on Saturday, where he reiterated Moscow's opposition to NATO's plans to expand eastward, he went Sunday to the Russian city of Kaliningrad.
Speaking at the main base of the Russian Baltic Fleet in nearby Baltiysk, he told sailors of a torpedo boat crew that he was convinced of the need to strengthen the Russian navy.
"I took and will take all measures to resolve problems of the army and the navy," he said, flanked by officers.
In the speech shown on Russian television, he said he has made increasing funding for the navy a top priority and promised to give it special consideration in next year's budget.
Before visiting a nearby village and a Kaliningrad church, he promised the sailors his reforms would pay off.