- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The Clinton administration's close identification with a few corrupt Kremlin officials has badly tarnished America's reputation in Russia and set back U.S.-Russian relations by at least a decade, a new congressional report says.
The 209-page report, to be released today by a dozen senior Republican House members, takes direct aim at Vice President Al Gore's stewardship of policy on Russia over the past eight years, and it has already drawn prerelease fire from Mr. Gore and congressional Democrats unhappy with its conclusions.
"After tens of billions of dollars and eight years of mismanagement by the Clinton administration, the U.S.-Russian relationship is in tatters, characterized by deep and growing hostility and divergent perceptions of international realities and intentions," according to the report, titled "Russia's Road to Corruption."
The report criticizes the administration's record on a variety of fronts, including aid in building a market economy in Russia, weapons proliferation, efforts to fight Russian corruption, and the focus on President Boris Yeltsin and a few favored aides while ignoring Russia's parliament and other regional and private power centers.
The survey notes that Russia's relations with China have improved sharply, with the two talking openly of warmer ties to frustrate U.S. foreign policy goals.
"To find a foreign policy failure of comparable scope and significance, it would be necessary to imagine that after eight years of American effort and billions of dollars of Marshall Plan aid, public opinion in Western Europe had become solidly anti-American, and Western European governments were vigorously collaborating in a 'strategic partnership' directed against the United States," the report says.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert commissioned the study in March. House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, California Republican, chaired the group, which included the chairman of the House Banking and Financial Services, International Relations, Intelligence and Appropriations committees.
Democrats criticized both the report and its timing, coming out just weeks before the presidential election.
"This is a partisan report not worth the taxpayer-provided paper it's written on," said Douglas Hattaway, a spokesman for Mr. Gore yesterday.
"While they play politics with foreign policy, Al Gore has put the national interest ahead of politics to help Russia reduce its nuclear arsenal and move toward a free-market democracy," Mr. Hattaway said.
"This is a political hatchet job. It's outrageous," said Rep. Sam Gejdenson, Connecticut Democrat and the ranking minority member of the International Relations Committee.
Mr. Gejdenson was one of five senior Democratic House lawmakers who wrote a letter Monday to Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, complaining about the report, although they had not seen the text.
A copy of the report was obtained yesterday by The Washington Times.
"This document should come out under the letterhead of the Republican National Committee," added Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat. "It's only meant to inflame the electorate 48 days before the election."
Mr. Gore has been closely identified with the administration's Russia policy since being appointed by Mr. Clinton to head a joint commission with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin overseeing a number of bilateral issues, including energy and space exploration.
Mr. Cox, in an interview with reporters and editors of The Washington Times, said the report was not intended as a partisan attack.
"The next president is going to face tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities in our relationship with Russia," he said. "It's important to understand how we got to where we are and not repeat the mistakes of the past."
To Mr. Cox, the last eight years represent a series of squandered opportunities that have left Russia poorer, U.S. influence weaker and the average Russian far more cynical about U.S. intentions.
The report cites the State Department's own surveys tracking a sharp decline in favorable opinion among Russians toward the United States during the 1990s, from 70 percent favorable in 1993 when Mr. Clinton took office to just 37 percent in February.
Mr. Cox said an "insular troika" of advisers Mr. Gore, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Deputy Treasury Secretary (now Secretary) Lawrence H. Summers largely set U.S. diplomatic and economic policy toward Russia.
Their unflagging support for Mr. Yeltsin and close association with corruption-tainted aides such as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and privatization chief Anatoly Chubais backfired badly as Mr. Yeltsin's popularity flagged and the economy staggered in the ruble crisis of August 1998, according to the Republican report.
Because of their rhetorical and financial support of figures like Mr. Chernomyrdin and Mr. Chubais, the report argues, the administration became associated with their policy failures and with the scandals involving money laundering and theft of state assets that plagued the Yeltsin years.
The administration has cited a number of successes in its foreign policy with Russia, including progress in decommissioning Russia's huge nuclear stockpile and Russia's efforts to broker an end to the conflict with Yugoslavia over Kosovo last year.
While the House report castigates U.S. economic policy toward Russia, a new International Monetary Fund survey forecasts over 7 percent economic growth for Russia in 2000, the country's best performance in years.
The House Republican report says the incoming administration will have a chance to repair Russian relations, but must broaden its contacts beyond a small Kremlin circle, must promote private sector solutions to Russia's woes, and more aggressively combat official Russian corruption.

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