Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High Stakes for the US in Russian Standoff

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High Stakes for the US in Russian Standoff

Article excerpt

AS they anxiously watch events in Russia, United States officials are trying to support President Boris Yeltsin without becoming tied to him.

Their problem is this: They genuinely believe Mr. Yeltsin is the Russian leader most committed to democracy and free markets. At the same time, they realize the present crisis is so dire he could be toppled - and if he sinks, the White House does not want US-Russian relations to go down with him.

Thus in recent days administration figures have made a point of endorsing not just Yeltsin, but reform in general, and democracy, freedom of the press, and civil liberties in particular.

"The most important point is that Russia must remain a democracy during this period moving toward a market economy," said Secretary of State Warren Christopher in a speech in Chicago on March 22. "This is the basis, the only basis for the US-Russian partnership."

There are high stakes in this political standoff for the US as well as for Russia.

Much of President Clinton's economic package depends on the passage of large cuts in defense spending. If Yeltsin loses power and is replaced by figures less committed to cooperation with the West, Congress would be much less likely to approve large military budget reductions.

Republican lawmakers have already seized on the Russian unrest as a reason to oppose Clinton's budget outline.

As the Senate resumed debate on the budget this week, GOP Senators said they would push an amendment that would hold defense cuts to $60 billion over five years.

That's the figure Clinton pushed during his campaign. Since then deficit projections have gotten worse. As part of the attempt to hack $500 billion off the deficit over the next five years, the budget already passed by the House calls for $122 billion in defense cuts over that period.

At the same time, Secretary of State Christopher appears to be laying the foundation for an administration attempt to increase aid for Russia.

In his speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Christopher said that aid specifics weren't yet set. He added that "our bottom line is {that aid} will be increasing and acclerating our support for Russia's democracy."

From a foreign policy point of view, the situation in Russia is very complex. …

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