And a Generous U.S. Response

August 22, 1991

The quick death of the Soviet coup gives President Bush an opportunity to be more forthcoming with immediate financial aid to what might be called the Gorbachev-Yeltsin regime.

Always fearful of the Republican right wing, which questioned the wisdom of helping Soviet reformers who might be overthrown by hard-line Communists, Mr. Bush was long on moral support but cautious on material commitments during his twin summits in London and Moscow this summer. Now the question is whether his policy on this issue will change as radically as his attitude toward Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the hero of the triumphant democratic counter-coup.

In domestic terms, the president's hand is strengthened if he wishes to play it. The likes of Republican Sens. Jesse Helms and Malcolm Wallop were effectively repudiated by the week's dramatic events. From the Democratic side, Mr. Bush has little to worry about. Many liberals, when not demanding more attention to home-front needs, criticized him during the pre-coup period for not extending more assistance to Mr. Gorbachev.

Mr. Bush's decision on this important issue will depend, in part, on his allies. Of all the Western nations, Germany was most eager to assist Mr. Gorbachev. Britain, in contrast, sided with the go-slow stance of the Bush administration, which stressed drawing the Soviet Union into international financial and trade institutions while awaiting concrete proof of progress toward democracy and a free market economy in the Soviet Union.

This newspaper favored the cautious approach. But with the quick suppression of the Moscow coup, we think the Soviet people put their bodies on the line for reform and democracy. While far more needs to be done to rescue the Soviet economy from the wreckage of Communism, the timing is right for more generous American gestures. There already are blueprints aplenty. Severe as the American budget crunch may be, there are many ways in which the United States can give greater help to alleviate severe shortages of consumer goods in the Soviet Union.

In return, the Bush administration has much to gain diplomatically. The specter of a reactionary Moscow regime going back to Cold War ways is gone, perhaps for good. Instead, Washington can look forward to Soviet ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), its cooperation in co-sponsoring a Middle East peace conference, its withdrawal of troops from Poland and Germany and its allegiance in the urgent task of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

These are estimable objectives. No wonder President Bush called the suppression of the putsch "a good day for the U.S.-Soviet relationship" -- a relationship he expects will get "even better."

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