We readily acknowledge,” said Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Central Bank President Viktor Gerashchenko in a memorandum for the International Monetary Fund, “…that implementation of the government’s economic program, over the past several years, has been incomplete.”

With that modest confession, the prime minister stopped by Washington last week to pick up $640 million of the IMF’s money, the first installment of a $4.5 billion credit the IMF Board approved last week for disbursement over the next seventeen months. That brings the total of Russia’s drawings from the IMF since August 1992 to over $20 billion. None of it has been repaid.

The IMF loan illustrates the petrifaction of Western policy toward Russia. The desire for stability, a dynamic policy in 1991 and 1992 when Russia was in tumult, is now a static commitment to the status quo. Far from promoting democracy, economic reform or even change, Western policies–whatever their intent–now only serve to protect a Russian regime that is stultified, paralyzed by its own weakness and corruption.

No one believes that this Russian government, the fourth in a year and a half, will accomplish much of what it promises to do in its letter to the IMF, all of which it has promised before. Yet the money, professedly linked to these reforms, comes anyway. No one believes, or at least no one should believe, that the government will do much to restrain the transfer of missile and nuclear technology to Iran. Yet export licenses for Western satellites to be launched on Russian rockets, professedly conditioned on this restraint, are issued almost routinely. No one believes that Russia’s parliament will ratify the START II warhead-limitation treaty, under consideration now for nearly six years. Yet talks on START III, which President Clinton had linked to ratification, will begin in Moscow later this month.

Within Russia, the conviction among ordinary people grows that the West is the knowing architect of Russia’s ruin. Didn’t the West create the Russian capitalists? And didn’t the capitalists steal the country’s public assets, and the people’s savings too? And isn’t the West sending more money for them to steal, keeping them strong and Russia weak? And who benefits from Russia’s weakness, if not Russia’s enemies in NATO?

These attitudes suggest that a democratic government in Russia might not be a friendly one. They suggest as well that a reassessment of Western policies is overdue. Postcommunist Russia has lost over half its gross domestic product. At least a third of its people live in poverty. There is no rule of law nor progress toward it. If the United States cannot find a way to stand for change, it should at least leave the side of those who stand against it.