In his astute analysis of Russia's predicament {op-ed, Feb. 22}, Peter Reddaway convincingly shows that President Boris Yeltsin has all but abandoned the course of reform he began in 1991.

The point that needs to be added is that Yeltsin's about-face is a symptom, not the cause, of Russia's plight. As the transition from one-party rule and the command economy to today's chaotic conditions has benefited few and alienated many, public support for reform has yielded to pressure for retrenchment.

In Moscow, members of the small biznis class can afford to rent a dacha for more than $5,000 a month, eat out at a fashionable Swiss restaurant where the main course costs $40, and pay $3.25 for a slice of Viennese torte. By contrast, the vast majority of the Russian people, who earn less than $100 a month if employed, are worse off than they were under communism.

The nostalgia they feel for an improved version of the bad old days of order, however oppressive, and the welfare state, however meager, is as understandable as it is unfortunate. They walk by Moscow's elegant storefronts that display expensive Western-made goods priced in dollars, not in rubles, wondering what has happened to their lives and to their country. They look for scapegoats at home and abroad.

Showing disturbing similarities to Weimar Germany of the 1920s, Russia is a humiliated country in search of direction without a compass. It is smaller than it has been in three centuries. Both the outer empire in Central and Eastern Europe and the inner empire that was the Soviet Union are gone, and Moscow must now use force to keep even Russia itself together. As its pitiful (and shameful) performance in Chechnya has shown, the military has been reduced to a ragtag army, with presumably unusable nuclear weapons. Four thousand five hundred rubles -- worth more than $4,500 only a few years ago -- are now gladly exchanged for one dollar. For its very sustenance, Russia is at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund, which can palliate but surely cannot cure the country's economic ills.

Worse yet, Russia is deprived of pride and self-respect. There was a time, during World War II, when the whole world admired the Soviet military for its extraordinary boldness and bravery. There was a time, in the 1950s, when several ex-colonies of Asia sought to emulate the Soviet model of rapid industrialization and when Soviet science moved ahead of the United States in space research. There was a time, from the 1920s through the 1970s, when many -- too many -- Western intellectuals and others believed that Soviet-style communism was the wave of the future. And there was a time when then-Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko claimed that no significant issue in world politics could be settled without Moscow's concurrence.

To appreciate the present mood of letdown and frustration, imagine that our currency became all but worthless; that our stores identified some of their wares in the Cyrillic rather than the Roman alphabet, showing pric\es in rubles; that our political and economic life were guided by made-in-Moscow standards; and that our leaders were lectured by patronizing foreign commissars about the need to stay the course in order to join their "progressive," which is to say the communist, world.

In the final analysis, the condition of Weimar Russia is alarming because it is at once a weak democracy and a weak police state, pluralistic and yet intolerant, pro-American in its promise but anti-American in its resentments. The public -- its pride deflated and its economic needs unmet -- craves order at home and respect abroad. The authoritarian temptation is pervasive, and so is the urge to be -- and to be seen -- as strong once again.

The West may defer the day of reckoning, but it cannot obviate the Russians' eventual need to compensate for the humiliation that is their present fate. The writer is a political analyst for a global money-management firm and a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Foreign Policy Institute.