US-Russia Relations: Take the Long View Let's Consider How Far We Have Come from a Stalinist Economy and a Communist Dictatorship - Not Just How Far We Have to Go

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THE trend in Russia lately has not been good: bloody crackdowns in Chechnya, the ascendance of hard-liners to key posts, and the weakening of reform forces. There are many doubts about President Boris Yeltsin's leadership, and a Communist could win the presidency.

Some even claim that Russia is headed back toward authoritarian rule and empire. Yet this view ignores what has gone right in Russia - and exaggerates what has gone wrong.

United States policy toward Russia should be determined, not by bad news, but by our three fundamental interests: economic reform, democratic reform, and military stability. In each of these areas there is good and bad news. One fact is inescapable: Russia today poses far less of a threat than it did five years ago. Bad news - and good From the perspective of US interests, much in Russia is troubling. The economy is riddled with crime and corruption. Most Russians believe that their country has been impoverished by reform, and that privatization has enriched a criminal class. Agricultural reform is halting. Mr. Yeltsin is distancing himself from reformist principles and attacking the unpopular policies of his own presidency. He is embracing many of the communist and nationalist opposition's views in order to boost his campaign. The weakened reform movement has been unable to unite. A more-assertive Russian foreign policy is evolving. The problem is not an attempt to restore the Soviet Union, but more subtle pressure to force weaker neighbors in the "near abroad" to accommodate Russia's interests. Yet much also has gone well in the new Russia. Capitalism is firmly established. The private sector produces two-thirds of Russia's output. Inflation is down to 2.8 percent a month. Politically, democracy is taking root. Two Duma elections have come and gone without incident. The media is increasingly independent and critical of the government. On the foreign-policy front, Russia has pulled out its military forces from Central Europe and the Baltic states and is working together with US forces in Bosnia. It has adhered to its overall treaty obligations to cut nuclear and conventional forces, even as we have many questions on important aspects of implementation. US policy options Given this mixed picture, how should the US view Russia? Today, the idea of a strategic partnership with Russia is unrealistic. We should lower our expectations. Russia is emerging from a state-run economy and Communist dictatorship. Evolution of a market economy and democracy will be slow, imperfect, and reflect Russia's traditions. …