Soviet seminar offers more questions than answers

November 08, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

Lauren Utkin speaks fluent Russian. The Baltimore woman is completing a graduate program in Soviet studies at Washington's Georgetown University. She's visited the Soviet Union many times. And she's married to a Russian biologist.

Yet Ms. Utkin, 24, gets nervous thinking about risks that could await Russian Adventures, the business she's launching. Along with a joint-venture partner in St. Petersburg, she hopes to soon begin sending U.S. tourists to the Russian Republic.

"The whole legal structure in the Soviet Union is unstable," she said.

Her fears and questions took her to Towson State University yesterday, where she was one of 50 people attending a seminar on "Business in the Soviet Union After the Coup."

But Ms. Utkin said more questions were raised than were answered by the meeting, which included a live teleconference hookup of U.S. business executives with Russian Republic officials and Russian academics in Moscow.

"They didn't answer any questions they didn't want to," she said of the Russian officials. "For example, when they were asked about the convertibility of the ruble, they just said they didn't like that question."

The risks of Soviet ventures were also on the mind of Ralph C. Meima Jr., chief executive officer of FTI, a small Annapolis company that markets advanced industrial lubricants and coatings. He has toyed with the idea, but he's yet to make a definite move to sell in the Soviet Union.

"I think this meeting reflects the confusion and chaos that exists in the Soviet Union," he said, noting that his company's lubricants are especially suited to industries operating in cold climates such as the Soviet Union. "The opportunity is there, but the risk is very high."

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