Clinton, Hill Spar over 'Who Lost Russia' Dispute over US Aid Focuses on Parties' Differing Views on Relations with Russia

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The Clinton administration and the Republican-led Congress have for some time been at loggerheads over policy toward Russia. But never has the debate been as heated as it is now.

The flare-up follows recent allegations of massive Russian money laundering, diversions of foreign aid, and corruption as high as President Boris Yeltsin and his family. Persisting Russian foot dragging on economic reform and fresh charges of Russian missile deals with Iran are exacerbating the bickering. At its heart, the "who lost Russia debate" involves divergent views of whether the billions of dollars in assistance and loans the White House has supported have helped or hindered the transition of the world's second-biggest nuclear power from totalitarian rule to democracy.

Republicans say US policy has been a disaster. They say the White House's tolerance of endemic graft, the Kremlin's unfulfilled vows to enact reforms, and its opposition to US foreign policy concerns have worsened those problems.

Some $6 billion in bilateral US aid has been squandered, and US support for the unpopular Mr. Yeltsin has fueled anti-American sentiment among Russia's penurious masses, they say. "Russia has become a looted and bankrupt zone of nuclearized anarchy," says House majority leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas, GOP leaders have responded by cutting aid to Russia, demanding abrogation of a key arms-control accord, and seeking economic sanctions on Moscow for failing to halt the alleged missile deals with Iran. They have also called extensive congressional hearings, the first of which opened Sept. 21, to examine the Clinton administration's Russia policy and Russian corruption.

Foreign policy failure? The hearings are to include a review of Vice President Al Gore's conduct as the US chairman of a commission that oversees bilateral relations. That move is widely seen as a GOP effort to tar Mr. Gore's presidential bid with charges that he played a key role in what Mr. Armey calls "the greatest foreign policy failure since Vietnam."

The White House rejects the GOP contentions. It argues that while Russia is mired in deep problems and that Yeltsin has failed to tackle them, it is too soon to abandon the policy of "engagement" and support for reform. Confrontation, it contends, would be costly and dangerous.

Government officials say US aid is being targeted at programs promising to shore up democracy and a market economy and reduce the massive nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare arsenals stockpiled by Russia.

"The suggestion made by some that Russia is ours to lose is arrogant; the suggestion that it is lost is simply wrong," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared in a speech in Washington, hastily arranged on Sept. 17 to counter Republican attacks.

How the debate will play out is uncertain. Few independent experts share Armey's assessment of the administration's stewardship of US- Russia relations. …