The German Stake in Russian Aid

ROBERT G. LIVINGSTON

April 02, 1993|By ROBERT G. LIVINGSTON

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Ever since they smuggled Lenin into Saint Petersburg in 1917 to ignite the Bolshevik revolution -- and for centuries before that -- the Germans have had an elemental interest in Russia. So whatever aid strategy President Clinton presents to President Yeltsin when they meet in Vancouver tomorrow it must be one that is worked out together with Bonn.

Measured against the urgency of Russia's needs, the results of Mr. Clinton's meeting last week with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl seem disappointing. Although the two spent more than half of their five-hour meeting talking about Russia, no specific new initiatives were announced, other than a promise to work out an aid plan during April.

Why is it important to keep the Germans' attention focused on Russia? And why should we push them to join us in making new efforts, the chancellor's pleas that his country's finances are too strained notwithstanding?

We should understand that Bonn has a tempting alternative policy option: It is already building a sphere of influence just to its east, in Poland, the Czech republic, Slovakia and Hungary, countries where German companies are investing heavily. Clearly the Germans will be tempted to convert these countries into a protective buffer zone against chaotic conditions further east, in Russia and Ukraine.

Germany will, if it selects this policy option, concentrate its efforts and resources in the buffer strip, bringing most of these countries quickly into the European Community and the NATO alliances. Such a policy emphasis for Germany would entail giving up on Russia for a while, in view of endemic political turbulence, administrative dislocation and economic collapse there.

Up to now among the Group of Seven Western industrialized countries, the Germans have contributed far and away the most for Russian aid -- about $50 billion over the past three years. American assistance remains modest by contrast, less than $3 billion last year, more than half of it in the form of short-term credits to buy American grain and foodstuffs. Even if President Clinton succeeds in extracting new money from Congress, American aid to Moscow this year will certainly not exceed $1.7 billion.

Bonn's assistance so far has, however, been designed almost entirely to accelerate the withdrawal of the Russian troops that remain in eastern Germany. More than 200,000 are still there but all are to be gone by mid-1994. German-financed construction companies are building over 36,000 apartments in Russia for them.

Given the immensity of the task of aiding Russia and the priority Mr. Clinton is giving to domestic rather than foreign expenditures, any assistance program to Russia that is to have an impact must be mounted in common by all the G-7 countries -- with the United States and above all Germany, which has the greatest interest, in the lead.

The danger is that once the Russian army has finally departed next year, Germany may scale back aid to Moscow and opt for the buffer-zone strategy. To avert this the Clinton administration should promptly develop an aid plan that both insures and requires continuing German engagement.

German and American approaches and strengths with regard to Russia neatly complement each other. If the two countries develop a specific and targeted plan and also coordinate their efforts, prospects for making Western aid to Russia effective will much greater.

During three years of a unique and relatively successful experiment in converting the formerly communist eastern German political and economic system into a democratic, free-market one, the Germans have accumulated a wealth of experience. They take a long-term, patient view of Russian developments, build up and work well with administrative structures, and can mount hands-on training programs. Also, German public opinion strongly favors economic aid for Russia.

What Americans lack in historical experience they make up for in enthusiasm, a grass-roots approach and an ability to detect and promote private initiatives. Our hankering for quick results can energize German bureaucratic deliberateness.

Partnership between the U.S. and Germany was grounded for 40 years in a common effort against Russia. Its most promising future lies in working jointly for Russia. More than any other two countries Germany and the U.S. have essential interests in eastern Europe and the states that have emerged from the Soviet Union's dissolution. In other respects or regions their interests do not coincide and may well conflict.

In sketching out a Western aid plan for the Vancouver summit, President Clinton should assign a large share to a Germany that is readying itself for a greater international role, one it should play fully in Russia.

Robert Gerald Livingston directs the American Institute for Contemporary German studies, an affiliate of The Johns Hopkins University.

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