VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- President Clinton an Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin began their summit here yesterday, immediately tackling the two momentous issues they face: how much western investment in Russia is prudent, and how Mr. Yeltsin will gain enough control over the Russian economy so that the West can fulfill its promises of financial help.
Even before Mr. Clinton landed from Portland, Ore., the agenda was spelled out in a brief news conference featuring Mr. Yeltsin and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who praised Mr. Yeltsin for all he has done so far.
"Canada views the reforms -- economic and political -- initiated by Mr. Yeltsin as being fundamental to the . . . success of an entire movement in Russia," Mr. Mulroney said. "We'll cooperate with President Clinton and all of our Western allies to make certain that the Russian people understand the high value that we all place on political action designed to strengthen democracy and freedom."
"What it's all about," the prime minister said, "is freedom in Russia."
Mr. Mulroney greeted both Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Clinton in separate airport arrivals yesterday morning in this thriving coastal town in western Canada. The first to arrive was Mr. Yeltsin, who hugged Mr. Mulroney, referred to him as "my friend Brian," and then kissed Mila Mulroney, the prime minister's wife, in the Russian style.
The Russian president then shook off the offer of an umbrella to stand in the driving rain as he reviewed the honor guard.
Asked if he will continue to press for the economic and political reforms that western governments want so desperately -- namely, some order in the chaotic Russian economy -- Mr. Yeltsin replied with a headline: "Yeltsin asked if he can guarantee reform.
"As long as there is President Yeltsin in power in Russia then definitely my answer is yes the reforms will continue," Mr. Yeltsin said.
There have been conflicting signs in recent days as to whether Mr. Yeltsin believes the West is doing enough.
On Friday, the Paris Group, an informal group of western bankers, announced that it was restructuring Russia's 1993 debt in a move that would save Russia approximately $15 billion next year alone.
Mr. Clinton is expected to offer an aid package of a combined value of $1 billion, and in the last two days both Canada and Britain have announced aid packages of their own totaling nearly $400 million.
Among the new or expanded programs in the U.S. package were housing loan guarantees to build apartments for demobilized Russian soldiers; seed loans for Russian entrepreneurs; medical supplies, food and grain assistance; funds to help the Russian government sell off state-owned industries, and technical advisers to help Russia's oil and gas industry repair pipelines and oil wells and begin exporting again.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said here yesterday that a key thrust of the U.S. aid is to encourage Russia to privatize its state-subsidized farms, factories and other businesses.
Mr. Christopher said that the United States will propose "enterprise funds," that would be used to stimulate American business investment in Russia.
Mr. Christopher also created a fancy name for U.S. technical assistance. He spoke of a "Democracy Corps" that would be composed of Americans willing to go live in Russia and assist in the setting up of democratic institutions in the former Soviet Union.
Yet, all of this is relatively small-scale stuff compared to Russia's size and Russia's needs, and just before leaving Moscow Friday night, Mr. Yeltsin seemed impatient.
Asked if he thought $1 billion in U.S. aid was enough, Mr. Yeltsin replied, "I want you to remember that Germany, to get rid of the Communist monster, needed $100 billion. That is my answer."
Too much isn't good
But yesterday after arriving on Canadian soil, Mr. Yeltsin was asked again by a Russian reporter about what he considered an appropriate amount of money was. He gave a much different answer -- one that revealed the level of intrigue that Mr. Yeltsin must contend with in internal politics back home.
"Too much is not good, either," he said. "Too little is not good because it's not enough to enable you to solve problems, while on the other hand, too much can be bad because it would be used by the Communists to target us. The opposition is going to say, in that case, that we are going to be enshackled by the West."
"What we need," he continued, "is an optimal figure, something that would enable use to retain the reform afloat and not allow the Communists to come to power."
One theme of the day, however, was the way all three leaders appealed, each in his own words, for patience from constituents.
"History is being forged," Mr. Yeltsin said. "We must understand that Russia is shedding one social order to assume another social order."