Will Russia survive its economic and political crisis?
September 17, 1998
in this forum:
Is Primakov the right man for the job? What does the appointment of Primakov mean for Russia's relations with the West ? What should the United States and the West do to help Russia get through this crisis? What does the average Russian think about the current crisis? Can the appointment of Primakov be interpreted as a defeat for the reformist policies of Yeltsin? Is there any possibility that Yeltsin will dismantle the monopolies?
A. Dillman of Denver, CO, asks: What should the United States and the West do to help Russia get through this crisis?
Leon Aron, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, responds:
Unfortunately there is very little we can do at the moment except to be attentive, sympathetic and standing by to help if and when Russia is back on the path of reforms. We are currently witnessing a Left backlash, which is quite common in post-communist societies: Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania brought the Left-of-Center governments (or parliaments) back to power several years ago.
As always, the Russian case is worse and more complicated. Its communist legacy is much heavier because of immense militarization of the economy and decimation of agriculture. And, second, Russia simply does not have moderate, reformed, post-communist Socialists.
Michael McFaul, assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, responds:Until the new Russian government has a credible anti-crisis program, Western assistance programs for macroeconomic stabilization such as I.M.F. loans must be suspended. At the same time, other kinds of assistance programs aimed at fostering microeconomic reforms should be expanded. For instance, programs which provide small business loans, projects which furnish information about Western markets, and business training and exchange initiatives should all be expanded. Similarly, technical assistance projects which facilitate the development of important market institutions such as laws governing property rights, disclosure, bankruptcy, pension funds, taxes, and the securities markets also need to increase.
Since independence in 1991, Russia has yet to attempt genuine market reforms. If the opportunity arises in the future for a renewed attempt, the people and knowledge must be in place to make reform work.
On the democratic front, the U.S. also need not stand by idly. At the highest levels, U.S. officials must send clear signals to Russian elites about the negative consequences of circumventing the democratic process. In particular, the rules for the next presidential election must be followed. As such a transfer would be a first in Russian history, no single event is more important for the consolidation of democracy than Russia's upcoming presidential election.
At the non-governmental, grassroots level, programs that promote democracy and democrats in Russia also must be enlarged. For instance, projects that provide expertise regarding the development of parties, trade unions, federalism, the rule of law, an independent media, and civil society more generally should be expanded, not curtailed as is presently planned. Fascism in Russia can only grow through the grassroots; trade unions, youth groups, parties, and women organization's are their current targets. Russian democrats who are battling for the heart and souls of these organizations right now must be supported, not abandoned.
Obviously, the kinds of assistance programs outlined here will not "solve" Russia's current economic crisis. But they may be the long-term investments that will save Russia from crises in the future.
More immediately, these kinds of programs also offer Americans a way to remain involved with Russia during this difficult period. These programs can be administered without transferring a dime to the Russian state. They also can be pursued without presidential leadership in either the United States or Russia which cannot be counted on in the near future.
Many Americans have grown weary of Russia as achievements have been few and headaches many. However, now is not the time to give up on Russia. Only seven years since the Soviet collapse, Russia's revolution has by no means ended. While Russia's current leaders are still committed to developing a market economy and a democratic polity, it is in the vital national interests of the United States to insure that this trajectory continues. The days of presidential summits may be over, but the work in the trenches has just begun.