Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 208

Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers yesterday criticized the government of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov for failing to follow through on previous economic reform plans. Summers also suggested that, as a result, Russia would be less likely in the future to be the recipient of U.S. aid. In what was described as a toughly worded speech, Summers told a chemical industry group that Russian reformers had lost the race against the forces of oligarchy, crony capitalism and “retrograde” lawmakers. “In August the government’s time ran out,” Summers said in reference to the series of events that resulted in the ouster of reformist former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and his replacement by Primakov (Reuters, November 9).

Summers remarks yesterday were only the latest reflection of a recent hardening in the Clinton administration’s attitude toward Russia. The coming shift was first noticeable during President Bill Clinton’s September summit meeting in Moscow. Senior administration officials have since elaborated on the disappointment felt by the White House over the Russian government’s retreat from market reforms. Like a number of its Western allies, the Clinton administration had also indicated its unwillingness to bail the Russian government out of its current crisis. The United States will continue to look favorably on humanitarian aid programs–like the recent Russian-U.S. food deal–and on select bilateral programs–like those dealing with nuclear security issues. But the administration has made clear that the Russian government must move to solve its own economic problems (Washington Post, November 1).

The administration’s revised approach to Russia was voiced by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in an October 2 speech delivered in Chicago, and again on October 26 by Stephen Sestanovich, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet republics. But the new view was most forcefully conveyed in a November 6 speech by Strobe Talbott, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and the main architect of the Clinton’s administration policy toward Russia. Talbott criticized Russia’s abandonment of free-market economics. He then reportedly issued a blunt warning that financial decline in Russia could lead to “political drift, turmoil” and possibly even a breakup of the state. He also reiterated that U.S. backing for financial assistance from the IMF “must wait until the Russian government shows itself willing and able to make the difficult structural adjustments necessary for recovery and growth.” Talbott’s remarks were all the more noteworthy because he has at times been maligned for taking what his critics say is an unduly sympathetic view toward Moscow and the Kremlin leadership (AP, Reuters, November 6).

Russian and U.S. leaders will get an opportunity in the coming weeks to air their mounting differences over Russian economic policies. Primakov and Clinton are expected to meet at the Kuala Lumpur Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference on November 17-18. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov will travel to Washington on November 22. In addition to their talks on Russian domestic policies, the two countries are likely also to discuss a series of sharply contested issues in the foreign policy sphere. Moscow and Washington have been at loggerheads most recently over policy toward Iraq and Yugoslavia. They also have longstanding differences over Russian military and nuclear cooperation with Iran.