Russian ambassador criticizes U.S. inattention to his country's problems

February 26, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

The Russian ambassador chastised the United States last night for inattention to Russia's problems, saying that economic chaos in the struggling superpower could bring an anti-Western, nationalist dictatorship to power.

"If the West will not be involved in our country now [economically], you'll be involved in the next Cold War," Vladimir P. Lukin said in an address to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs.

He said he understood U.S. concern about the famine in Somalia and the civil war in Bosnia, issues that have dominated recent U.S. foreign policy. "But consider the amount of time spent by the United States government on these problems and on Russia as compared with the strategic stakes the U.S. has in each area, and you will see that it is illogical," he said.

But Mr. Lukin, an urbane Americanologist and the first envoy to Washington from post-Communist Russia, also held out a more enticing vision of a "Russian economic miracle" that could make the world's largest country "the world's richest market" in four or five years.

"Japan was a greater shambles after the war than Russia is today," he said.

Mr. Lukin, 55, was appointed by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin a year ago, months after he cemented his democratic credentials by standing alongside Mr. Yeltsin against the

short-lived hard-line coup in August 1991. He is considered a pro-Western, pro-American diplomat.

His polite but pointed criticism of U.S. positions seems designed partly to demonstrate to nationalist opponents at home that Russia conducts an independent foreign policy.

Asked about Russian hesitation to join in Western moves against Serbia, for instance, Mr. Lukin stressed Russia's historical ties to ethnic Slavs in the Balkans. He drew an analogy with the "special interests" of the United States in Israel, also a target of United Nations sanctions.

A Russian foreign policy of "romantic and infantile pro-Americanism" would be self-defeating, he said, because it would contribute to "a deepening sense of national humiliation that feeds ultra-nationalist backlash" in Russia.

Likewise, he warned that it would be short-sighted for the United States "to look down on Russia as a junior partner at best and try to squeeze the greatest advantage from it." That would add fuel to anti-American sentiment and be "the fastest way to isolate your friends in Russia," he said.

Rather, he said, Russian democrats should "marginalize this nationalist backlash by taking the values of national interest, identity and greatness away from the right. In other words, democrats, in my view, should become the chief custodians of the new Russian statehood."

Mr. Lukin's talk, delivered before an audience of more than 500 people at the Stouffer Hotel, came two days after 20,000 people marched in Moscow to denounce the Yeltsin regime for bankrupting Russia and selling the country out to Western interests.

Popular disappointment in the results of Russia's move toward a market economy gives the nationalist opposition a natural opening, the Russian ambassador said.

"We had three generations of totalitarianism. Then you with your Voice of America told us that democracy means happiness, democracy means high living standards. We believed you," he said.

Indeed, Mr. Lukin confessed, he won election to the Russian parliament in 1990 partly by making just such promises. Economic reality has proven considerably more complex.

"What if your president promised economic progress and, one or one and a half years later, prices had increased 26 times and your wages had increased only 10 times?" he asked.

Urging U.S. investment in newly minted Russian businesses and old factories cut loose from state subsidies, he called for a "trickle-up" investment policy rather than the "trickle-down" approach of the International Monetary Fund.

Appointed by the first democratically elected Russian president, Lukin has compared his role to that of Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. envoy to France at a time when French aid was crucial to the survival of the young, democratic United States.

A graduate of a prestigious Moscow teacher-training institute, Mr. Lukin's first job was as a guide in St. Basil's Cathedral, the Red Square architectural landmark. He went on to a job as an editor of the World Marxist Review in Prague and was there in 1968 when the Soviet-led invasion put an end to Czechoslovakia's brief experiment with "socialism with a human face."

He denounced the invasion and was deported. He feared his career might be over. But Georgi A. Arbatov, the top Soviet Americanologist and Mr. Lukin's former teacher, gave him a spot in the safe haven of Moscow's U.S.A.-Canada Institute. He stayed 19 years.

In 1987, Mr. Lukin moved from the institute to the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

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