The Case for Aiding Russia

April 02, 1993

President Clinton put the issue forcefully -- "a strategic alliance with Russian reform" is vital to American national interests. He told the American Society of Newspaper Editors meeting at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis that the struggle to build free societies in the former Soviet Union "presents the greatest security challenge for our generation," and "offers one of the greatest economic opportunities of our lifetime."

Not an act of charity but an investment in our future. What American, hearing it put that way, could say no?

The domestic-policy president used his first major foreign policy address to sell the American people on what he will offer Russian President Boris Yeltsin at Vancouver, before they hear the price tag. The numbers that have been suggested are modest, well within what was previously promised to Russia and not damaging to the deficit reduction Mr. Clinton is pushing through Congress.

Mr. Clinton does not argue simply for propping up Mr. Yeltsin. He describes, rather, an effort to strengthen the market reforms, civil liberties, unleashing of the human spirit and peaceful

relations with neighbors that Mr. Yeltsin champions. The main job is for Russians, not outsiders, to do.

Mr. Clinton's six principles of aid make clear that the aim is to help the Russian people nationwide; to have a lasting impact; to come from the people (meaning successful farmers and retired business executives) rather than only government; to be part of a larger world partnership involving aid from other countries and discipline by Russia's central bank; to lead to the nuclear disarmament already agreed, which requires security for Ukraine; to be on-going for the long haul.

This effort is every bit as important for the American future as Mr. Clinton says it is. The question is whether he can convince Mr. Yeltsin, and through him the Russian people, that it is enough. Enough to stabilize the ruble, reduce inflation in Russia and lay the groundwork from which Russians can make their country prosper.

The Russians will not really know what they are being offered until after the Group of Seven industrial nations meets April 14-15. The combined aid package, including international lending institutions, is the context within which the U.S. bilateral aid will operate. Japan and Germany, like the United States, have reasons not to be as generous as might have been expected in the recent past.

Mr. Yeltsin stands accused in the Russian Congress of People's Deputies of kowtowing to the West for very little in return. Reforms in Russia that Mr. Clinton requires for the aid to flow are what Mr. Yeltsin decreed and the parliament thwarts.

Strengthening Mr. Yeltsin's hand in Russia may be a means to an end, but the end is what counts. It is a Russia, and therefore a world, with which Americans can comfortably live.

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