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Russia at risk.

Russia faces perilous times - economic disarray, poisonous political rivalries, the ethnic enmity of its former partners in the late Soviet Union. But the greatest danger facing the Russian people right now may well be the eager helping hand extended by the Government of the United States.

Not that Russia doesn't need help. In fact, it needs far more than the paltry $1.6 billion promised by President Clinton when he met with Boris Yeltsin in Vancouver. With an inflation rate estimated at 1 per cent per day, an infrastructure that has been neglected (and, in some instances, looted or deliberately sabotaged) in recent years, a demoralized work force, and a chaotic distribution system for goods and services, the Russians face a general economic breakdown that can only be averted by massive infusions of aid from the United States and other relatively affluent industrial nations.

It seems likely that most Americans, even in their own (albeit much less acute) economic distress, would support the kind of humanitarian aid needed to avert acute suffering and give the Russian people the breathing space they need to sort out their political and economic future.

Unfortunately, that's not the kind of help Clinton seems to have in mind. Instead, the United States has embarked on a course of active meddling in Russian affairs. It has done so, first of all, by casting its lot with Yeltsin, whose authoritarian impulses and actions hardly qualify him for the role of democratic savior attributed to him by the U.S. Government and the media. The kind of government the Russians want, and the kind of people they want to head it, is a matter to be determined by them, not by the Clinton Administration. But the Russians' choices have already been severely circumscribed by U.S. intervention, and the rhetoric in Washington makes it less likely with each passing day that any alternative to Yeltsin's rule can be considered without incurring U.S. wrath.

Even more ominous than the U.S. affinity for Yeltsin is the assumption in Washington that the Russians must institute a "free-market system" that meets America's specifications. On the eve of his meeting with Yeltsin in Vancouver, Clinton took pains to note, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, that Russia has ample resources that might be useful to the United States, and constitutes a rich potential market for American business. It is, in other words, viewed by the Administration as a promising addition to the Third World, ready for exploitation.

Clinton went out of his way to stress that the United States should help Russia "not out of charity" but in America's self-interest. But what he obviously meant was the self-interest of the resource-exploiters and international corporations already scrambling to make the most of the Russian opportunity, provided U.S. taxpayers cover the risk. Aid to Russia based on charity would make a lot more sense.

A great deal of awful nonsense about Russia is emanating from the U.S. Government and the U.S. media. In one appearance on public television, Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, voiced the pious hope that Russia might be brought into the "civilized world." When they hear such foolishness, the Russians can console themselves with thoughts of Tolstoy and Pushkin, Tchaikovsky and Borodin. It may be the only consolation they can count on right now.
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Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 1, 1993
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