- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

Madeleine Albright often wears a brooch which reflects the theme of her foreign visits. At this past weekend's Moscow summit, she chose to wear the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Mrs. Albright, a Czech-born refugee from Nazism and communism, may have a view of Russia quite different from that of her Deputy Secretary (and longtime Clinton friend) Strobe Talbott.

President Clinton went to Moscow to enshrine his legacy and boost Al Gore's chances for re-election, but the results were meager. The modest agreements the two presidents signed could have easily been handled by Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and his Russian counterpart. Essentially, the two sides papered over their differences and agreed to disagree.

The two heads of state signed four minor memoranda. The first established an early warning missile launch system at a formerly secret Moscow facility code-named The Kindergarten, in which 97 Russian and American officers will work in shifts monitoring the ballistic missile launches of the two countries. Another agreement will expend $5.4 billion in U.S. funds to get rid of 68 tons of highly enriched plutonium, half of it Russia's. The radioactive material will be diluted and burned in commercial power stations. There was also an agreement to combat global warming. But the most vaguely worded document was a joint statement on principles of strategic stability.

The murky text of the strategic stability memorandum indicates how far apart the two sides are over issues such as the necessity to build a U.S. National Missile Defense and their assessment of emerging threats resulting from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is a process that is fueled, in part, by the giant Russian military-industrial complex. By selling nuclear- and ballistic-missile technology to China, Iran, North Korea and other rogue or proliferating states, Russia has released a genie that may be very difficult to put back in the bottle. Mr. Clinton and Al Gore, who have been dealing with the problem since 1995, have very little to show in terms of either restraining Russian dual use and military exports, or creating a credible missile defense.

In their memorandum, Vladimir Putin and Clinton reconfirmed their commitment to the Cold War notions of traditional arms control: deterrence, the ability to strike a retaliatory blow, and the ABM Treaty as the basis for strategic stability. With that, for the first time, Russia agreed that proliferation presents a problem and promised to seek a solution together with the United States. This sounds ironic, as one of the first decrees Mr. Putin signed after being inaugurated will allow for a significant expansion of Russian nuclear technology exports to rogue states, such as Iraq and Libya.

Mr. Putin has suggested that the United States and Russia work jointly on booster stage interception of rogue ballistic missile launches. However, Mr. Clinton rejected this proposal, saying that it would produce results only 10 years from now, and that may be too late to counter the existing threat. Like good bureaucrats everywhere who are not ready to make a decision, the two presidents finally ordered a new report on missile defense to be drafted by their ministers of foreign affairs and selected experts, but they did not announce its deadline for completion.

On the economic front, Mr. Clinton was misleadingly positive. He signaled that he will support a resumption of Russia's borrowing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This commitment has been made on the strength of an economic program which the Russian Cabinet has not yet adopted, and which may require parliamentary legislation that is far from certain to pass.

The Russian approach appears promising, but it is insufficient. Russia may go for a flat 13 percent income tax, but the high rates of the value-added tax (VAT) and social safety net taxes, coupled with corrupt and inefficient revenue service will still make Russia one of the most economically oppressive countries on the planet. Court reforms and introduction of private property on agricultural land are stalled. New credits are also ill-advised because even the Russian Central Bank and the Fund have admitted that prior aid was partially embezzled, and no progress has been achieved in investigating these abuses.

Probably the most important part of Mr. Clinton's visit to Moscow was sending Mr. Putin a strong warning on democracy and human rights. He announced that the United States places high importance on protecting religious freedom and the rights of the independent media. "I strongly agree with what President Putin himself has said, that Russia has no future if it suppresses civic freedoms and the press," Mr. Clinton pointedly said in a press conference. This warning is particularly relevant in view of the recently attempted kidnapping of Andrey Babitsky, a war correspondent for the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty, by the Russian secret police that Mr. Putin headed prior to his ascendance to higher office. It is also symbolic in view of the May 11 secret police raid against Media-MOST, an opposition print and electronic media concern. Mr. Clinton appeared on Media-MOST's Echo Moskvy radio and NTV television channel while in Moscow, while Mrs. Albright met with the Radio Liberty staff.

Mr. Putin, a pragmatist, seems to understand full well the current weakness of Russia's military might and economic muscle. He abandoned the sometimes-confrontational rhetoric of his predecessors, Boris Yeltsin and Yvgeny Primakov. At the press conference with Mr. Clinton, he promised that the worst in U.S.-Russian relations is in "the distant past" and that under no circumstances would Russia resume confrontation with the United States. This is definitely a statement of good intentions by Mr. Putin, but did Bill Clinton need to travel all the way to Moscow to hear it?

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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