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
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
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. …