- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

As the Putin-Bush summit takes place, I implore America's leaders to engage in a thoughtful debate of economic relations with Russia that recognizes one important reality: Never has the West dealt with a nation so fundamentally unique. And never has an aspiring member-nation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) been so fundamentally challenged.
As the Kremlin's appointed marshal of Russia's accession to the WTO, my own personal struggle with the issues swirling around my motherland's membership has compelled me to voice a heartfelt and sometimes unpopular stance at home. We badly need to join WTO as a tool to hone our market economy, but not membership for membership's sake. In fact, I strongly believe the present headlong rush to join will have catastrophic results.
For the sake of 145 million Russians indeed, for the sake of the world we must slow this process down, take a breath, and dig more deeply into what is at stake. Only then should we move carefully and resolutely toward accession.
American public figures queuing for the accession debate cannot fully understand the complexities of Russia's accession by comparing it to any other nation. Russia is totally, remarkably and terribly unique. While the excesses of communism ran down the economies of many nations, Communist Party rule of Russia ravaged and, in many cases totally destroyed vital segments of our economy.
Today, we are a country like no other and dichotomies abound. Ours is a stunted economy that boasts one of the most educated work forces on Earth. Russia's national sovereignty is constantly challenged, yet we control a formidable nuclear arsenal.
Recovering from 70 years of destruction has forced our leaders to blaze trails never traveled. Indeed, multinational misunderstandings of Russia's inimitable nature were disastrous in the decade following the collapse of communism. The lessons of failed reform in the 1990s show that Washington consensus of the era did not lead to integration and prosperity for Russia, but actually contributed to the August 1998 financial crisis. And after leading us through "all shock and no therapy" many of our new-found friends washed their hands of the mess and left us to our fate. In fact, this had a positive result Russia's new generation of leadership proved strong enough to achieve recovery. Our economy has grown since then by more than 20 percent.
Luckily, we survived; for the moment we are thriving. But the luck of the uptick does not warrant throwing caution to the wind as we move again resolutely toward real reform. This time, we can afford no shortcuts. And the world must be prepared to assist Russia as we do what it takes across a sufficient period to assure our nation is truly qualified and truly ready to join the WTO. As a global leader, the role of the United States in driving this debate is clear and this summit is an important milestone.
In Russia, there has been no clear and public discussion of our nation's economic development strategy. Powerful special interests are lobbying hard, driving our sprint to accession. They push rapid membership because they will benefit greatly from the short-term "accession dividend," leaving the majority of Russians to suffer the extremely painful short-term contractions of key economic sectors.
However, global debate furthered in the crucial days ahead is certain to inform and enliven discussion in Russia. But, when evaluating accession, various vital details must be considered:
The productivity of the Russian economy, where workers average $100 monthly, is only 12 percent of that of America. Meanwhile, the economies of 69 of our 89 regions are less than 60 percent of national average.
The Soviets developed specific industries in single regions. With virtually no mobility of labor, killing off an industry means killing off an entire metropolitan center.
As a peripheral economy, the outflow of Russia's resources will, for at least a decade, prevail over inflow. In this case, 90 percent of the nation is doomed to misery if WTO standards and rules restrict our transition to a market economy.
By urging America's leaders to abandon the lessons of past WTO accessions, I do not discount history's lessons. In fact, the Versailles Treaty of 1919 offers important reflection all Russians understand in their soul. After the First World War, the victorious allied nations drove home harsh economic circumstances and created the doomed Weimar Republic. While the economy grew early on, the unexpected Wall Street crash of 1929 sparked support for the Nazis. Suddenly, American and multinational aid plans were withdrawn. Germany was again isolated. The economy spiraled out of control, and history attests to the end result; in Russia alone we lost 27 million of our citizens to Nazi aggression.
Today, we have our share of tin-pot tyrants waiting in the wings. They froth at the mouth, saying the victors of the Cold War are cramming Versailles-esque circumstances on Russia. Other, more centrist critics say the West would use WTO processes as an instrument of controlling Mr. Putin's reforms. Discussions at this summit will fuel even more fringe opinion.
This week, President Bush and other American leaders can inform our domestic debate in important ways by first recognizing the singular nature of Russia's accession. But, perhaps the little-known American writer John James Reilly said it best in his review of the 1996 book, "Hitler's Thirty Days to Power": "Even if you can't be blamed for preventing the bad from happening, you can be blamed for failing to prevent the worst."

Konstantin V. Remchukov is a member of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) and serves as chairman of the Russia's Public Council on WTO Accession. He is also chairman of the experts and advisory board of Basic Element Co.



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