THE legislative battle between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Congress represents the latest in a series of ongoing power struggles over the course of Russia's economic and political future. Along with our Western allies, the United States must not passively observe the reversal of peaceful democratic change in Russia.
The West cannot decide for Russia what its political future will be, but the mere commitment of Western assistance gives democratic forces in Russia increased leverage. A neutral Western position would create the impression that we are not serious about helping Russia turn away from its communist past.
The current political struggle in Moscow is not a battle between two opposing parties over which direction to move Russia's democratic government. Russian nationalists and Old Guard communists have formed an alliance to carry out, in effect, a political coup d'etat. Russian nationalist leaders, led by parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, have opposed the free election of members of parliament, worked against the privatization of Russia's economy, blocked efforts to eliminate the old Soviet bureaucratic
hierarchy, pushed for increased subsidies to state enterprises, and argued against cooperating with the West to resolve foreign policy issues, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Instead of recognizing this trend and implementing policies to assist the Yeltsin government, the West has reacted with half-hearted efforts. Previous Western relief efforts took the form of government-to-government aid and lacked any specific policy targets to strengthen the private sector. And until now, the West has criticized Russian reform efforts without recognizing the political and social perils of changing from a communist to a democratic system of government overnight.
In the coming weeks, events in Russia will follow two likely scenarios. On the one hand, the US and its allies can work to help stabilize the situation in the former Soviet Union by adopting a system of targeted aid toward Russia. On the other hand, the West can play the role of spectator and watch as Mr. Yeltsin and Russian hard-liners battle for Russia. This does not mean that the West can save Yeltsin's pro-democratic government or forestall a return of hard-line Russian nationalists. But it does mean
that we can adopt some basic policy measures to help Yeltsin's government, with tangible benefits for the West as well.
At the upcoming meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, the US should propose that Russia's $84 billion international debt and its interest payments be rescheduled. At the same time, we must persuade Yeltsin to implement economic reforms, which include selling off shares of Russian state-owned enterprises to private investors and eliminating bureaucratic practices that prevent Western firms from investing in joint ventures with Russian firms.
We should support the International Monetary Fund's $6 billion currency stabilization program on the condition that the money is used to stabilize the Russian ruble, not to fund state enterprises or pay increased wages for workers. We should also use a portion of the aid to develop a private fund from which Russian entrepreneurs can receive low-interest loans to start their own businesses. And we should dramatically increase our programs that train Russian managers in Western firms on the techniques of p rivate enterprise.
Perhaps most important, we must pledge to support Yeltsin's reform efforts, even if he must resort to extreme measures, such as dissolving the Russian parliament, calling for free elections, or temporarily imposing martial law.
We must insist, however, that these measures are consistent with his long-term economic and political reforms, and that they are tied to timely free elections. Economically, a free-market system in the former Soviet Union would generate billions of dollars in trade with the US and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for American workers.
Politically, a democratic former Soviet Union would be an ally. Estimates are that the US and its allies can save hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending if the former Soviet Union continues down the road to democracy. But a destabilized Russia would force massive increases, not reductions, in defense spending.
Militarily, a stable former Soviet Union means a safer world. If capitalism and democracy do not survive in this land, we will confront, at best, a resurgent, militaristic Russia or, at worst, a number of destabilized countries armed with nuclear warheads. As Western leaders meet to discuss relief efforts for Russia, the US should take the lead rather than follow the others.