Busy Work for Policy Wonks in Moscow

Article excerpt

This was a week for Moscow mothers to keep their policy wonk children safe at home. The Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission was back in town.

No one except the odd conspiracy buff pays much attention when this bureaucratic juggernaut rolls into the capitals of Russia and the United States, regular as clockwork. Every year, they meet once in Washington and once in Moscow. This week's Moscow meeting, which was held on Monday, and Tuesday was the seventh in the commission's 3 year history.

It should be easy to argue there is more to the commission than its arcane and numbingly boring activities imply. Its nine joint U.S.-Russian committees cover a vast area. They discuss superpower cooperation on business development; the conversion of Russian defense industries to peaceful purposes; health; Russian environmental problems; energy issues; science and technology cooperation; space program cooperation, in particular the joint space station project; agricultural business; and a separate Environmental Working Group.

U.S. representatives for the commission are drawn from across the entire expanse of the federal government. Officials from the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) all took part in the Moscow meetings.

Yet for all this vast array of topics, the impression remains that all this is makeshift work, created by two policy wonks - Al Gore and Viktor Chernomyrdin - to foster the cosy illusion that they are really in control of all the things that really matter in the superpower relationship.

Skeptical observers of the commission joke that its two bosses look on it as practice for when they will run their own superpowers in succession to Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, both of whose second terms end in the year 2000.

Yet Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin are themselves the odd couple of superpower politics. Their warm friendship and close working relationship is a marriage of contrasts and expediency.

Mr. Gore, former senator from Tennessee, is the Mr. Clean of American politics, a centrist democrat who has become a passionate advocate of ecology policies. Mr. Chernomyrdin is the former head of Gazprom, the gigantic Russian oil and gas industry combine that probably produces more pollution than any other corporation in the world.

Both men have impressive standing but their reputations as administrators are questionable. …