Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin

By Padma Desai | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Strobe Talbott
Bill Clinton's "Russia Hand"

NOVEMBER 2000

"F"or seven of the eight years that President Clinton was in office here, Boris
Yeltsin was the president of Russia. He had, by virtue of his office, huge powers.
He also had an extraordinarily strong and consistent commitment to certain prin-
ciples and objectives that were in the interest of the United States. He was sus-
ceptible to the influence of only one man in the U.S. government, and that was
Bill Clinton. Therefore, we decided early—President Clinton decided early—
that he was going to concentrate his diplomacy on his Russian counterpart. I
think that was absolutely the right thing to do. It yielded huge and lasting ben-
efits to the United States.

Yeltsin felt a deep ambivalence about the United States. In some ways he re-
garded us as a beacon, a model, and a friend, and in other ways he regarded us as
obnoxious as hell…But the way he resolved that conflict, when push came to
shove, was favorable. And that was largely because of the interaction between
him and Clinton.

I wish that we had invested much more money early on …but certainly at the
beginning of the Clinton administration. We should also have invested it more
wisely. The international support, which is to say, the economic stabilization pro-
grams, and particularly the social safety net programs, should have been more
highly conditioned.…I personally wish that I had paid more attention to
Chechnya. It seemed literally like such a peripheral issue when it got started in
1994. We didn't focus on it enough. We didn't understand the ominous impli-
cations that it had for Russia's development as a state.


JANUARY 2001

He "Putin" has shown quite often in various ways that his instinct is, if not au-
thoritarian, then at least tends toward the use of muscle rather than powers of
persuasion and consensus building.

-169-

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