| Russia's Willingness to Work with the West
Is a Key Factor in Restoring Investor Confidence
Russian support for the United States' campaign against terrorism
has created new windows of opportunity for cooperation in other
areas, especially investment. But discussion leaders at a dinner
to discuss Russia's future made it clear that a deeper understanding
of Russia's present political climate is expected from Washington
if the current openness is to continue. While the US is pushing
for increased democratization and less restrictions on business,
Russians are more concerned about the danger of social chaos and
a loss of political control. These days they are also concerned
about the lack of predictability of the Bush administration. "We
need stability," German Gref, Russiaaˆ™s Minister
of Economic Development and Trade, told guests at the dinner.
"We need political stability and economic stability. I don't
think that anyone would deny that, with the accession of Mr Putin
to the presidency, that stability is now in place." Gref
was sceptical about western complaints that Putin has stifled
television and other media. "At a time when 90% of the mass
media in Russia belonged to two people who determined the whole
content, that was considered to be democracy," he said. "When
it turned out that these media outlets were, in fact, based on
and funded by money derived from privatization, and that this
was not lawful, it turned out that it was not so democratic."
Gref admitted that Russia still faces enormous problems, but he
insisted that Russia's political nature has changed dramatically.
"It is absolutely obvious that today there is a completely
new thinking in Russia," he said, "and the name of that
new thinking is predictability and pragmatism. We should base
our relations with the United States on predictability, pragmatism
and the pursuit of mutual interest. All we ask from the US is
a similar predictability and understanding of our situation."
Grigory A. Yavlinsky,
Member of the Russian Duma and Leader of the Yabloko Movement,
expressed some pessimism about Russia's short-term economic prospects.
"We think that growth cannot be expected in the first quarter
of 2002," Yavlinsky said. "To generalize on this point,
we think that without deep changes, without new products and new
technologies, all the other resources to accelerate economic growth
are almost completely exhausted. Further growth would require
new investments and radical changes in the quality of management."
Yavlinsky turned out to be highly laudatory of Putin when it comes
to foreign policy, though. "Russia made an absolute incomparable
breakthrough in 2001," he said. "It was the personal
courage of the Russian president to take the decision of unconditional
support for the United States and its stand against terrorism.
It was the personal courage of the president that resulted in
that decision." The United States, Yavlinsky pointed out,
has been less helpful in its treatment of Russia. "The statements
about the ABM treaty, the declarations that treaties were not
necessary anymore, that warheads would not be destroyed but would
be stored, one by one, every week; something has happened in which
Russia has given a very quiet, very wise response," he said.
"The president is giving a very clear signal to his partners
that the relative success of the United States in Afghanistan
is only the end of the beginning, and it is a very long story
-- It is better, instead of discussing these minor things which
create new problems, to start negotiating strategic military and
political alliances for the 21st century that will have a dramatic
impact on the internal political situation in Russia as well."
Mikhail Margelov, Chairman, Committee for Foreign Affairs, Federation
Council, Russian Federation, indicated that Russians would very
likely find a US attack against Iraq completely unacceptable.
"Russia will never accept that the Iraqi debt is not paid
back to Russia," explained Margelov. "We will never
accept that Saddam Hussein's regime becomes a fundamentalist regime.
We will never accept that the tool to get rid of Saddam Hussein
will involve inspiring conflict between the Kurds and the Arabs.
Speaking about Iraq, we are very pragmatic." Amplifying on
his reference to Iraq's debt, Margelov said that the question
is a hot political issue in Russia. "The Soviets' debt was
not forgiven to Russia," Margelov explained, despite Russia's
advances to the West. In contrast, the debt incurred by Poland's
former communist government was erased from the books. "It
is a very important topic that we have to keep in mind."