Clinton vows to offer aid to Yeltsin at April summit in British Columbia

March 06, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton announced the details of his spring summit with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin yesterday, and then, in an effort to make sure there still is a President Yeltsin to meet with, he pledged to do more for his beleaguered nation.

"I believe he is a man of real courage and real commitment to democracy," Mr. Clinton said of his embattled Russian counterpart.

Mr. Clinton was not specific on what help he would offer to Mr. Yeltsin. "It's not a question of money alone," the president said, adding that he planned to "offer some innovative solutions" to Russia's crisis.

The president told reporters at the White House that he felt Russia had tried sufficiently to move toward a market economy to warrant more aggressive help from Washington.

"I believe that they've made enough effort for us to try to engage them in specific actions that will produce economic results," he said. "I'm going to this meeting with the intention of trying to more aggressively engage the United States in the economic revitalization of Russia."

The summit, planned for April 3-4 in Vancouver, Canada, probably can't come fast enough for Mr. Yeltsin. Productivity in Russia is falling, and crime is soaring. According to former President Richard M. Nixon, inflation in the heart of the former Soviet Union was running at a rate of 25 percent a month last year as the standard of living was cut in half.

The only period the United States has to compare with it in economic terms is the Great Depression.

At the same time, promised aid from the West has only trickled in, for a variety of reasons, including the Russians' inability to stabilize their currency.

"The Russians are going through hell right now," said Peter Rodman, a former White House and State Department official in the Reagan and Bush administrations who is now a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute. "It's unlikely the rest of the world has enough money to simply bail Russia out, but it's important for us to have a visible program of help . . . so they know that the West is sympathetic, the West is a friend, the West is not punishing them."

But the United States has grave budget problems of its own.

As Mr. Clinton spoke about Russia, he was flanked by 35 mayors from various U.S. cities. This is a constituency unlikely to put a high priority on large-scale foreign aid.

But Mr. Clinton cited an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times in which Mr. Nixon argued that the United States had a tremendous interest in nurturing democracy in the former Soviet Union, that Mr. Yeltsin represented the best hope to accomplish that goal and that the Yeltsin government would not survive without substantial help from the West and Japan.

Mr. Nixon suggested that bankers and government officials from Japan and the West forgive some of the former Soviet Union's foreign debt.

He is expected to meet with Mr. Clinton on Monday to expound on those views.

Mr. Clinton has many proposals from which he might choose for creative ways to help Russia.

Some Farm Belt members of Congress are pushing for additional credits to sell grain to Russians. U.S. oil producers, large and small, want government-controlled overseas development banks to provide low-interest loans for energy exploration and drilling projects.

Dimitri Simes, a Russian analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an informal Nixon adviser, advocates taking billions of dollars that the West set aside, but didn't use, for ruble stabilization and using it to buy food and other consumer goods that would be sold to the Russian people. Mr. Simes asserts that this would stop hyper-inflation and pump much-needed capital into the government's coffers.

Angela Stent, a professor of government at Georgetown University, says Russia also needs high-profile technical assistance, particularly in the form of exchanges in which Americans go to Russia and help with privatization and Russians come to the United States.

Some trade officials on the West Coast have urged going even further -- actually creating federal or state tax credits for U.S. business people willing to invest in Russia.

Several Russia policy analysts said Mr. Clinton should simply cut the red tape that has prevented Russia from receiving billions of dollars in loans and aid already approved by such entities as Congress and the World Bank.

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