'Bring On Cowboy Businessman'
Visiting Soviet officials tell why US industry should invest in new USSR - a letter from Washington
WASHINGTON — IT all began with a call from the Soviet Embassy: Would I like an "exclusive interview" with the head of a delegation of leading members of the Russian Republic's parliament?Why not, I decided, wondering why I in particular had been selected for this honor - aside from a Moscow contact of mine working in the embassy's public information office. At the appointed hour, I strode through the embassy gates and into the building, where I got a rather startling announcement: The entire delegation - about a dozen members of the presidium of the Russian Supreme Soviet - would like to meet with me. With little time to become terrified, I was shepherded into the ornate public hall where the group waited. What would I like to discuss, I was asked, after introductions. The answer would determine how many men would stay. "Well," I replied, ll give you my first question, and those who find the topic interesting may stay. Here goes: If I were an American businessman, how would you persuade me to invest in the Russian Republic?" Everyone stayed. Anatoly Zakopyrin, a Supreme Soviet committee chairman from the Siberian city of Bratsk, came ready to do business. "We offer you the Bratsk aluminum factory," he said, pulling out what looked to be a hand-sketched floor plan. "This factory was built in the '50s and '60s. The technology is outdated. We would like to ask Americans to evaluate that factory with us to bring it up to international standards." "We have a good, qualified work force, a qualified team of leaders; we have electro-energy," he continued. "We can charge world prices, sell our product abroad, and divide the profits. Let's start with this and see if the new laws work." The Russian legislators came well aware of Americans' reluctance to invest in the Soviet Union: The ruble remains unconvertible into hard currency. Supplies are erratic. The infrastructure is crumbling. Telecommunications are sketchy. And, despite the recent agreement for a new union treaty to govern relations between the federal government and the republican governments, many crucial aspects remain unresolved, such as the power of taxation and the issue of whose laws take precedence. Parliament member Yevgeny Ambartsumov raised such obstacles and turned them into an appeal to the American spirit of adventure. "In the first stage, [the businessman] will come across lack of organization, lack of conscience, bribes," Mr. Ambartsumov acknowledged. "He will meet with a lack of understanding of personal profits, a striving for quick profits.... But at the same time, he will be working in uncharted territory, where he can be a pioneer - like Admiral Byrd, or Stanley.... Isn't that a source for inspiration?" "American businessmen, who are sort of conservative in a way, are not quite sure that our political and economic system is really being drastically changed," said Mikhail Zakharov, another presidium member. "If we're prepared to make an open society, that will be the pathway for more initiative.... Therefore we have to prove that we really mean this change." The parliament members raised other points of encouragement for American businessmen: tax-free economic zones, changes to the criminal code legalizing speculation, and examples of joint ventures already under way with West European businessmen. So, was I convinced? the men asked. "Well, I don't know...," I started, trying to be diplomatic. Then Mr. Zakopyrin, the gentleman from Bratsk with the aluminum factory, jumped in with a solid offer: "On Aug. 15, come to Bratsk, bring a cowboy businessman, and you'll have 100 percent success. It's a Klondike."