Russia will cut funds for Soviet programs, Yeltsin says

June 20, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Russian President-elect Boris N. Yeltsin told Congress yesterday that he would press forward with deep cuts in Russia's contribution to the Soviet budget, providing nothing for foreign aid next year and substantially less for defense.

In a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, a buoyant Mr. Yeltsin laid out an uncompromising commitment to free-market reforms and private ownership of property, saying that there would be no turning back now that the Russian people had endorsed his program by electing him.

"This graphically demonstrates that the conservatives, who are trying to tell us that the people were not ready, that the people would not understand, that they would not accept market reform, privatization, that there was a need to stop, to pause, maybe to go back, have been proven wrong," he told congressional leaders at a luncheon.

This was music to the ears of the congressional leaders, warmly embracing the first democratically elected Russian leader. They treated him like a visiting head of state.

"You're on the right track as far as we're concerned," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., although others on Capitol Hill reserved judgment on Mr. Yeltsin's prospects for implementing reforms amid the overall deterioration of the Soviet economy.

The amount that republics contribute to the Soviet budget is a key issue in negotiations over a union treaty among Russia and other republics. Earlier this year, Russia slashed its contribution to 23 billion rubles, down from about 70 billion rubles.

At a meeting with senators yesterday, Mr. Yeltsin said that this reduced Russia's sums for defense by 15 percent. Two Senate aides who were present at the closed-door meeting quoted him as saying that there would be a 50 percent cut next year, although one said that there may have been a translation error and that he meant another 15 percent cut.

Mr. Yeltsin has previously said he wanted Russia to be able to control how its contribution to the central government's budget is spent. Yesterday, he told senators that Russia would give nothing toward foreign assistance next year because it couldn't afford it.

One of those present quoted him as saying that all aid to Afghanistan would stop in the second half of this year, apparently referring to Russia's contribution to that aid.

The Soviet military budget and its continuing support for totalitarian regimes, particularly Cuba's, are cited by the Bush administration as key obstacles to providing any direct U.S. financial assistance to the Soviet Union.

Responding at one point to a question from a Russian-speaking reporter, Mr. Yeltsin predicted that his plans would be resisted by hard-liners, particularly in the Communist Party, but insisted that he was ready for the struggle.

The Russian president's display of resolve invited comparison with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whom Mr. Yeltsin denigrated as "inconsistent" in an interview Tuesday night on ABC's "Nightline."

"He has a strength for a certain period of time; and then, under pressure of other forces, he may change his decision. That isn't a good thing," Mr. Yeltsin told interviewer Ted Koppel.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., for one, made a pitch for more direct contact, including trade, between the United States and individual Soviet republics.

"We do want to engage in more direct contact with the republics rather than with the [Soviet] central government. I hope you make that point to President Bush," Mr. Dole said during a photo opportunity.

"That's why I've come here," Mr. Yeltsin replied.

He avoided a pitch for direct financial help, joking when given an engraved pewter plate at the congressional luncheon, "I hope this is not the first installment of U.S. assistance. I can feel by its weight that this is not a piece of gold bullion."

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