Moscow Authorities `Cleanse' City for Clinton's Russia Visit

Would-be `entrepreneurs,' such as hawkers, are whisked away by the city's police

FROM the windows of his lavish three-room suite at the American-run Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel, President Clinton will hardly be aware of the poverty, crime, and seedy intrigue of the real Russia just a few floors below.

Mr. Clinton broke tradition by becoming the first US president to stay in a hotel in the former Soviet Union instead of at the United States ambassadorial residence or the Kremlin guest house during his three-night visit to Moscow. His suite at the Radisson will cost US taxpayers close to $800 a night, according to spokeswoman Susan Keating.

For the thousands of Russians who congregate daily on the frozen sidewalks outside the adjacent sprawling Kiev Railway Station, $800 is an colossal sum, more than six months' average wages.

Forced to stand in the biting cold, many of these ``entrepreneurs,'' who risk paying a fine for hawking their goods there, are the people suffering most from President Boris Yeltsin's economic reforms: pensioners, young mothers, and the unemployed.

But when Clinton arrives in Moscow, he'll be whisked past the station in a special limousine, avoiding both this sad commerce and the cacophony of pleas and threats from the station's taxi mafia, who charge triple fares for foreigners and slice the tires of rival cabbies.

Not far from the line of taxis and next to kiosks selling pricey imported Snickers bars and tropical juices, Alexander Smirnov, was trying yesterday to hawk some loaves of bread.

A gloomy, thin man wearing a threadbare coat, Mr. Smirnov says he has not been able to find employment since losing his factory job months ago. If he is lucky, he makes the equivalent of several dollars a day selling bread. ``I make just enough money to eat and that's it,'' says Smirnov. ``If I could tell Clinton anything, I'd tell him to make Russia like America. We can't keep on living this way.''

About 2,000 people arrive at the station every day from former Soviet republics to sell groceries scarce in Moscow or too expensive for average Russians, says Police captain Andrei Volkov. ``They only stay here two or three days ... the place has turned into a garbage dump,'' he says.

The usually littered area, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city, was significantly cleaner on the eve of Clinton's visit. Gone were the old women selling cartons of milk, scraggly carrots, and Russian cigarettes and the ladies selling family treasures dug out of closets to survive.

Mr. Volkov said city authorities had staged raids to rid the station of entrepreneurs, a practice reminiscent of Soviet times when officials ``cleansed'' the city during important state visits. The few scattered would-be businesspeople seemed preoccupied with casting furtive glances at parked militia cars near the station.

Olga Khersanova, a trained doctor living in Ukraine, was one of the few people openly doing business outside the station. She makes a living selling Ukrainian coupons, the country's interim currency, for Russian rubles at rates better than state exchange offices. ``I have a good profession, but salaries in my field are so low I can't earn enough,'' says Ms. Khersanova.

Inside the cavernous station, hefty men were checking train tickets to make sure people entering the warmth of the building were actually passengers.

``We started this system to keep the homeless out. Three or four years ago there were no homeless, but there are a lot now,'' said station employee Kolya Petrov. ``They used to come here to sleep and get something to eat,'' he says, ``but now they sleep in subway stations and underpasses.''

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