Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 158

All these topics are likely to remain on the agenda for this week’s summit talks. But Russia’s economic meltdown and the dismissal by Boris Yeltsin of his reform-oriented cabinet–and its likely replacement by a team less committed to Western-style market reforms–have shifted the focus of this week’s talks to Russia’s economy. Over the last week, Clinton administration officials have struggled to walk a fine line between demonstrating support for the beleaguered Yeltsin and warning the Kremlin against any retreat in the area of economic reform. They have also made clear that Russia can expect no additional financial aid from the world community until it takes steps at home to right its failing economy. (International agencies, August 28)

Such points were made by the U.S. president during a speech late last week when he said, “We should tell them [the Russians] that if they’ll be strong and do the disciplined, hard things they have to do to reform their country, their economy, and get through this dark night, that we’ll stick with them.” U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, in separate comments that same day, said that the United States “has a strong interest in preventing Russia from backsliding and in promoting its stability and success.” He added that it would be a “serious policy error and very unfortunate” if Russia reverted to a controlled economy. (Reuter, August 28)

Clinton administration officials suggested that such considerations–that is, the need to encourage Moscow to maintain its reform course during this crucial period–lay at the center of its decision to go forward with the summit meeting in Moscow. That decision was apparently confirmed–and internal dissent overcome–on August 28 following a half-hour conference call between Clinton and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Vice President Al Gore, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers were also involved in briefing Clinton. Talbott, in Moscow for consultations, reportedly conveyed to Clinton assurances from Yeltsin that the Russian president would not resign before the end of his term in 2000. (Reuter, AP, The Washington Post, August 28)

Clinton’s decision to travel to Moscow has nevertheless been criticized by some U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy experts in both countries. Sergei Rogov, for example, head of Moscow’s well-known USA and Canada Institute, pointed to Clinton’s and Yeltsin’s respective current political weaknesses and problems at home. “Never have the two presidents had such a weak internal political position simultaneously,” Rogov said. He predicted that the summit would produce “nothing in practical terms,” and observed that “it is not even clear who they [the Americans] should talk to in Moscow and what they should talk about.” (Reuter, August 27)