b>George W. Bush gave an extensive interview to the New York Times in which he revealed his basic thinking vis-a-vis Russia policy. The U.S. president-elect made it clear that the Clinton administration’s departure meant the days of American financing for Russia’s less-than-successful attempts at free-market reform were coming to an end. “It just seems like to me that we don’t want to be lending money and/or encourage the lending of money into a system in which the intention of the capital is never fulfilled,” Bush told America’s newspaper of record. He criticized the aid efforts of the last decade for having encouraged Russian to develop a system in which the tax burden “became so unbearable that it was impossible to pay.” He said that President Vladimir Putin pledges “to root out corruption” were “very important” but also “his choice to make.” “It’s hard for America to fashion Russia,” Bush said in a clear rebuke to his predecessor’s attempt–or, some might argue, show of making an attempt–at micromanaging Russia’s internal political and economic processes. Bush’s message that the Great Aid Gravy Train was coming to a halt came through loud and clear in Russia. One leading newspaper headlined its article on the interview: “Farewell, easy money from America.”
Interestingly, Bush’s comments were well received by some politicos who hold sharply different views–like Gennady Seleznev, the State Duma speaker and long-time Communist Party member (who this week held the first congress of Rossiya, his new pro-Kremlin political party), and Vladimir Lukin, the former Russian ambassador to Washington and a leader of the liberal Yabloko party. They and others wondered what good the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid during the Yeltsin era had done Russia–and, more important, where much of it had disappeared to–and in general agreed that it was time for Russia to fend for itself. While there was no official government reaction to the interview, Bush’s comments were no doubt less welcome there, particularly following the very negative Western reaction to surrounding Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s comments that Russia might not make all of its payments coming due this year on its $48 billion Soviet-era debt. On the other hand, Bush’s comments dovetailed almost precisely with ones made by Andrei Illarionov, President Vladimir Putin’s economic adviser. Illarionov has repeatedly insisted that Russia should stop living off Western aid and natural resource profits and start working for a living.