Soros plans $500 million in aid to Russia Billionaire investor seeks to improve health care, education, job training

October 20, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- George Soros, the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist, said yesterday that he would spend as much as $500 million in the next three years in Russia trying to improve health care, expand educational opportunities and help retrain the military for civilian jobs.

In a telephone interview from Moscow, Soros said he would announce the initiative in eight fields today. This latest gift would make him Russia's largest philanthropist and largest individual Western investor, as well as a donor whose presence rivals that of the United States, which gave Russia $95 million in foreign aid last year.

In the past decade, Soros, 67, has spent close to $1.5 billion promoting what he calls "open societies" -- the expansion of civil liberties, a free press, and political pluralism -- at home and abroad.

In August, Soros donated $25 million, or $5 million a year for five years, to open a Baltimore branch of his Open Society Institute intended to focus on drug treatment, economic development and education.

Since 1994, he has donated more than $350 million a year to his foundations in more than 30 countries, spending more than $259 million in Russia alone. This new gift would make his foundation in Moscow, the Open Society Institute-Russia, his largest presence in any country, including the United States.

Soros said that he had spent the past two weeks touring Russia and that the new program reflected the needs he identified during his trip as well as an evaluation of what his foundation has already accomplished. He said that while his tour was "rather strenuous and in some ways frustrating," he believed that the Russian government led by President Boris N. Yeltsin both needs and deserves Western confidence and assistance.

"I think this government will be there for at least three years," Soros said, brushing aside reports that the government could face a no-confidence vote in Parliament as early as Wednesday.

While acknowledging that rampant corruption and mismanagement have created a "precarious situation" for the government, he said he doubted that it would collapse any time soon.

"But during the next three years, the government must deliver if it wants reform to continue," he added.

In addition to his philanthropy, his Soros Fund Management, the principal investment adviser to the Quantum Group of Funds, has invested more than $2.5 billion in Russian business.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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