Parliamentary Candidate Confident of Reforms

Father Gleb Yakunin acknowledges pitfalls, but looks to the long run

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

MOSCOW'S reliance on Western assistance, particularly from the United States, is being downplayed in the current campaign for Russia's Dec. 12 parliamentary elections, according to a popular legislative candidate.

``We cannot afford to tell [voters] `Don't worry, the West will help us' with our economic problems because we know it's not true,'' says Father Gleb Yakunin, a controversial priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who is running on a reformist ticket. Father Gleb is part of the Russia's Choice bloc headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. Mr. Gaidar's attempts to open up the Russian economy have been curbed by opposition from anti-reform lawmakers.

Father Gleb frequently travels to Washington where he keeps United States religious and political figures abreast of Russia's democratization process. These days it is not politically prudent to emphasize Russia's relationship with the US, he says. Voters recognize that ``neither the US, nor the West in general can help us to survive. We're realists.''

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The lead organizer of Western financial assistance, the International Monetary Fund, has halted its loan activities in the former Soviet Union until leaders demonstrate a renewed commitment to restructuring the economy.

Harvard University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the top Western economic adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, says the West's retrenchment is damaging Russia's political and economic development. ``Since the breakthrough to new elections,'' he writes, ``reformers have had a strong hand,'' by slashing subsidies, tightening monetary policy, advancing privatization, and restraining runaway spending.''

Gleb, who expects to be swept into office, says he is optimistic that the reformers will triumph. They will work with President Boris Yeltsin to enact policies that will lure more foreign investment rather than promises for foreign aid. ``The main message of Russia's Choice is freedom, privacy and law,'' he says, adding that ``we really hope that the Americans, Japanese, and the Europeans will invest.''

Would-be investors from US corporations are looking forward to the Dec. 12 elections and referendum on the constitution, says Eugene Lawson, president of the US-Russia Business Council. ``We're hoping for a clear majority of reform-minded parliamentarians who will want foreign investment.'' Adopting a new constitution that legalizes private property, he says, ``will be a giant step'' toward creating attractive investment conditions.

Developments in Russia, however, continue to confound these hopes. Last week in Moscow, for example, Citibank and Chase Manhattan Bank learned a hard lesson. A presidential decree was published that prevents banks that are more than 50 percent foreign-owned and have not yet commenced operations, from operating in Russia until January 1996. That means that almost all of the Western banks that had planned to engage in trade and project financing in Russia will be barred from doing so.

According to a US financial source, the decree was signed after Gaidar met with a group of Russia's top bankers who are anxious about foreign competition. Powerful Russian banks are a major source of funding for political parties, including Gaidar's bloc, Russia's Choice.

Yet Gleb says that once a new set of laws is codified, and presidential power is strengthened, reforms will be irreversible. As one of the architects of the new democratic Constitution, he is very pleased that a referendum on the constitution will be held at the same time as the Russian parliamentary elections. ``This is our victory,'' Gleb says. ``We insisted that the referendum on the constitution be held at the same time, and I'm sure the people will vote 95 percent in favor of this.'' Even if the majority of parliament is not on Gleb's side, ``at least the Constitution will pass and it will hold parliament in check.''

In the short-term, Russia's Choice seeks to make a tangible difference in Russian lives. ``We want to work at a good mechanism to give away land. But the local nomenklatura [ex-Communists who still run industries and many municipalities] are strongly opposed, and will only cooperate if they receive bribes.''

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