Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Problems The Summit Won't Solve

One thing that can be confidently predicted about Boris Yeltsin's imminent summit meeting with Bill Clinton in Vancouver is that it will not solve his problems back home.


Russia's president will leave behind him a power struggle that is, if anything, sharper than ever before. To resolve it he has called a referendum on his rule for April 25, and until then -- the absence of Western-style campaigning and balloons notwithstanding -- he will be engaged in an election campaign.


In that context it would be rash to say that his 48 hours with the new U. S. president will be misspent. The sight of Yeltsin being feted in the West and extracting foreign aid is unlikely to turn Russians against him. But he should draw some object lessons from the experience his old rival, Mikhail Gorbachev.


Gorbachev collected a total of $70 billion in Western aid to keep the former Soviet Union tottering on its feet. He got a Nobel Peace Prize, a Time magazine Man of the Year award and the comfort of knowing that he was far more popular in West Germany than Chancellor Helmut Kohl.


Yet Gorbachev became deeply unpopular at home when his economic reform plans, under the slogan of perestroika, failed to deliver. Recently he claimed that people were beginning call for his return to power, but tellingly he did so while abroad in an interview with an Italian newspaper.


Popularity contests in Russia clearly are not won abroad. If history is any guide they are won primarily by pocketbook issues -- just like elections in the West.


As they launched a full-fledged effort to prop up support for Yeltsin during the latest convulsion of Russia's power struggle in the Congress of People's Deputies last week, Western leaders must have hoped that this could convince Russians that the president is indispensable. Clinton, President Francois Mitterrand and other leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized countries demanded urgent aid for Russia in order to save democracy here.


To work, this would require Russians to believe first that the West will deliver on its promises of increased aid, and secondly that the money will improve their lives. On both counts they have reason for skepticism -- not least because only a fraction of the $24 billion promised a year ago has arrived, while living standards and production continue to plummet.


This is not to argue that any aid given by Clinton or the G-7 is a waste of time. But it is not a panacea, it cannot be absorbed quickly even when delivered and is not a short term solution to Yeltsin's troubles.