BIPARTISANSHIP lives, even in a presidential election year. That was one message from last week's vote in the House of Representatives approving an aid package for Russia. Such political opposites as Newt Gingrich, the Republican whip, and Richard Gephardt, the Democratic majority leader, joined in praise of the vote, comparing it to the passage of Marshall Plan assistance for Europe following World War II.
It wasn't easy. Representatives who are sharply aware of problems nearer home - especially in the blighted urban areas of the United States - argued for putting American domestic needs first. Nobody can deny the urgency of those needs, but the House - joining the Senate, which had already approved an aid bill - made the right decision.
An investment now in democracy and market economics in Russia could in the long run head off much greater costs. A Russia sliding back toward authoritarianism, or toward chaotic ethnic conflict fed by deprivation, could eventually wipe out many of the peace dividends from the end of the cold war.
And timing is critical. Boris Yeltsin faces stubborn opposition from disgruntled Russian nationalists, die-hard communists, and the bureaucrats who have long run the country's state-owned industries. Yeltsin's cast of reformers are determined to hold their course, but they're often able to move only in small steps. They face tough battles to keep inflation down and to privatize state-owned businesses.
The biggest share of the $1.2 billion in bilateral US aid ($790 million) will go toward dismantling Russia's nuclear weaponry (something the US has a greater than philanthropic interest in). The rest will be used for direct aid in building a new economic and political system in Russia. It may not be all that Yeltsin hoped for, but it's a significant beginning, demonstrating a US commitment.
Equally important is a $12 billion increase in the US commitment to the International Monetary Fund. This will enable the IMF to greatly expand its lending to Russia and other East European countries. The IMF last week announced a $1.04 billion loan to Russia, and the World Bank made public a $600 million loan. It wasn't long ago that such loans were, at best, theoretical.