Cold Warrior Kissinger sells old nemesis: Russia

June 24, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

The plot is one part high statesmanship, one part low comedy:

Henry A. Kissinger, old Cold Warrior, comes to Baltimore to oversee a meeting between top American business executives and Russian politicians aimed at boosting capitalism in St. Petersburg.

The former secretary of state declares himself a fervent admirer of Anatoly A. Sobchak, the dynamic post-Communist mayor of Russia's second city. He says he is a strong advocate of aid to those he long considered adversaries.

But at the end of the session, Mr. Kissinger refuses to show up at the official press conference when he hears that among the reporters is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, the conspiracy theorist and presidential candidate, currently imprisoned for fraud.

As embarrassed officials scurry about and consult in low tones, the LaRouche backer turns to a Russian television crew and explains loudly that LaRouche is an "American political prisoner."

"What you're seeing," said the man, Mark Nafziger, "is media censorship in the United States." The Russians, who have their own long experience in such matters, seem befuddled.

"They're probably going to accuse me of a drug operation in Russia, now, right?" said an unamused Mr. Kissinger, a target of some of LaRouche's wildest charges over the years, when a reporter tracked him down later.

The episode was an odd sideshow to a major private American effort to assist Russia as it attempts to convert aging military plants to civilian production, open its economy to foreign investment and build a functioning market economy.

Under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, a team of top executives from such corporations as Procter & Gamble, Hyatt Corp. and Salomon Brothers has been meeting since October with officials of St. Petersburg.

A number of executives from Finland, a boat ride away from the city on the River Neva, also have taken part.

This week's session of the International Action Commission for St. Petersburg at Baltimore's World Trade Center strengthened a growing relationship between the two cities, both old ports with aging industrial bases, though the similarities may not go much further.

St. Petersburg (Leningrad from 1924 to 1991) is a neglected gem of 18th-century architecture struggling to overcome the legacy of seven decades of Communist rule, including a city economy dominated by huge military plants.

Mr. Sobchak, a reformer elected two years ago, is heading an aggressive effort to draw Western investment to the city of 5 million.

The commission's working sessions were closed to the press -- not at the request of the glasnost-saturated Russians, but at the insistence of the publicity-shy American executives, organizers said.

But officials said the commission has organized Russian-American working groups on such topics as rebuilding St. Petersburg's crumbling infrastructure, ensuring greater stability for investment and educating Russians about market relations.

Yesterday they agreed to add new groups to deal with port development, the reorganization of banking, and agro-business in St. Petersburg and the surrounding region.

The American participants are realistic about problems and opportunities in Russia, because most of their companies already have significant projects there. Procter & Gamble makes shampoo and other products at its St. Petersburg plant, and Hyatt is negotiating with city officials about building or managing a hotel, Mayor Sobchak said.

In a joint interview with The Sun yesterday, Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Sobchak portrayed themselves as fast friends, united in the view that Russia must base its development on Western models and shed as fast as possible the Soviet encrustation on Russian culture and thinking.

"We have total mutual understanding and confidence in one another," said the dapper Mr. Sobchak, 55, speaking through an interpreter.

"Absolutely," replied the 70-year-old former adviser to presidents in his gravelly, German-accented voice.

He said he greatly admired Mr. Sobchak, a leader of the Russian democratic movement since 1989.

Mr. Kissinger, in recent years a consultant and writer on foreign affairs, said he was drawn to the St. Petersburg project because it was unlike his past experiences.

"I usually deal with these problems on the foreign-policy, geopolitical level, but I did not know so much about how the nitty-gritty is in a major region of Russia," he said.

Mr. Kissinger seemed a little hurt at the suggestion that he has not always been seen as warm toward the Russians.

"I never looked at Russian people as an enemy," he said. "I looked at their government as an adversary."

With communism gone, he has only positive feelings toward the people with whose leaders he so often sparred over negotiating tables, he said.

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