It is now clear that the rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation in Moscow was the clincher that triggered President Bush's $24 billion international aid package.
When the Russian Congress meets today, there will be calls for President Boris Yeltsin to abandon economic reforms. As a preemptive move, he removed Yegor Gaidar from day-to-day running of the economy, though the 36-year-old technocrat will continue to serve as a first deputy prime minister and the president's chief economic adviser.
According to Mr. Gaidar, a veritable donnybrook is in the offing: "There will be very strong criticism from the old communist bloc. There will be very strong criticism from the Russian nationalists, who will say I am selling out to the International Monetary Fund and Western powers. We will be criticized by the agrarian deputies that we don't care about agriculture and we will be criticized by the enterprise managers because they face serious problems with industrial restructuring."
Thus, the belated Western rescue effort may have come just in time. It is a double-edged sword, however. It may cut deep enough to help economic conditions improve in Russia and the other former Soviet republics. But if the blade does not remove the rot, the outside aid may only fuel anti-Western rhetoric which has been increasing lately.
There is a real danger that all the ballyhoo about the Western aid package will raise expectations to levels that cannot be met. Little of the aid will begin flowing instantly. And much will go to rectify structural problems.
The republics of the former Soviet Union could remain economic basket cases for a long time. The situation is likely to deteriorate further later this year when many obsolete and bankrupt giant industrial enterprises grind to a halt and lay off millions of employees with no prospects for new jobs.
Examining these gloomy prospects, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl predicted Friday that the industrial countries of the West would have to sustain reforms for years to come. But just as the Commonwealth of Independence States has no choice but try to make the reforms work, the U.S. and its allies cannot turn away. By supporting democracy in the CIS, they are strengthening their own security.