Conference on aid to former Soviet republics is long on advice, short on cash

October 30, 1992|By John E. Woodruff NTC | John E. Woodruff NTC,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Western powers "cannot aid those who are unwilling to help themselves," officials from industrialized countries said yesterday in a blunt warning to anti-reform forces in the 12 states of the former Soviet Union.

They threw strongly worded rhetorical support behind Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and other leaders who face mounting anti-reform challenges in the states of the former Soviet Union.

But the only new tangible offers were a $100 million Japanese package of emergency food and medical supplies for this winter and $100 million in surplus U.S. corn, purchased last week as the Bush administration sought to prop up election-year farm prices.

The offers came in the first sessions of a two-day, 70-country conference on aid to what is now called the Commonwealth of Independent States.

"We know that leaders are facing difficult choices, and their publics are facing difficult times," Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said of the dire conditions the 12 nations face, but "we cannot aid those who are unwilling to help themselves."

"It is the painstaking and persistent endeavor and the will on the part of the people, rather than the assistance rendered by the international community, that can, in the end, change the situation," Japan's Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa declared.

The meeting is the third in a series proposed in Washington in January by then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

It has two purposes -- to plan urgent aid to help get the 12 through the coming winter, and to set up mechanisms under World Bank and International Monetary Fund leadership to coordinate longer-term efforts to revive the 12 shattered economies.

Delegates heard stark descriptions of economic collapse: oil production down 30 percent in four years, inflation at 20 percent a month in Russia, grain production that remains 13 percent short of the five-year average even after recovering some this year, and critical shortages of virtually every kind of medicine and hospital supplies.

"I don't think anyone yet really knows what the full extent of the need is," a senior official in the U.S. delegation said.

A joint Japanese-European-North American survey mission that toured all 12 countries told delegates it found no signs of hope for recovery in the foreseeable future.

Amid rapidly spreading unemployment and unrest, the political challenges to Mr. Yeltsin have echoes in virtually all 12 new states, including a similar challenge to President Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Georgia. The unrest also includes ethnic fighting that broke out last weekend in Tajikistan.

Once the winter passes, an IMF report informed the delegates, the 12 will need no less than $22 billion in foreign help just to meet critical foreign exchange needs to keep their economies and currencies operating in 1993.

Japan said its $100 million winter aid plan will concentrate on the Russian Far East and on the five Central Asian states. A $50 million Japanese emergency aid package in January had a similar focus.

Japan's focus on the Russian Far East, which has only 8 million people but often has some of the state's worst shortages, was widely taken as an attempt to improve Tokyo's reputation in an area that vehemently resists Japan's claim to four islands seized after World War II.

The dispute over those islands has long thwarted attempts at a Japan-Russian peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities. Last month, Mr. Yeltsin canceled his scheduled first state visit here amid street protests in Moscow against any concessions to Japan, which is blocking major economic aid until the dispute is resolved.

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