Ahead in the opinion polls and looking more like a winner than he has in months, Russian President Boris Yeltsin is back in his old fighting form in Russia's presidential election. But if his populist rhetoric appears effective, it is precisely because he is sounding more and more like his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov. Releasing his new manifesto yesterday, Mr Yeltsin made promises clearly aimed at stealing the Communists' thunder. He promises higher pay and benefits, political stability, more subsidies and protection for industry, a crackdown on crime and corruption, and closer ties with Russia's neighbours (for which read a return to dominance in the former Soviet empire). His manifesto bristled with the requisite ferocity at NATO's attempts to expand into Eastern Europe. There are still real differences with the Communists. The President wants to end conscription and go for a professional army. He at least pays lip service to continued privatisation and liberal reforms. But Mr Yeltsin is not going to court unpopularity by mentioning anything which might increase the heavy burden on a population that has seen its Soviet-era savings rendered worthless by inflation. The polls may put him ahead, but his period in office has seen Russia's economy and health and welfare systems fall apart, and Russian troops bogged down in a grim and unpopular war in Chechnya. The cease-fire agreed with the rebels may or may not restore some of his lost credibility, but he is a long way from winning against Mr Zyuganov outright. The manifesto is welcome, but the President's credibility gap will have to be narrowed further before Russia and the rest of the world can truly applaud the prospect of a fresh Yeltsin term in power.