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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Needs No Lectures on Aid to Russia

Of all the political and telegenic skills Bill Clinton displayed in his brief visit to Moscow, none was more impressive than his convincing assurance that he remained, like all visiting American presidents before him, the undisputed leader of the free world.

In military and nuclear terms, this remains true, although the uncertain future of the NATO alliance, and its diminished subservience to American concerns, could hardly have been more plain during the NATO summit which preceded Clinton's arrival in Moscow. The White House wanted to talk about NATO's future; France and Britain insisted on shoving Bosnia, that humiliating reminder of NATO's impotent present, to the top of the agenda.

But President Clinton also managed to assert his economic leadership of the West, his right to act as spokesman in the great issue of Russian economic reform and the role the West should play.

But when it comes to the Russian economy, whether through trade or aid, the Europeans are the big players. The Americans are financial pygmies. Since 1989, the U.S.S.R. and its successor, the Commonwealth of Independent States, have received a grand total of $94.355 billion in aid from the West. Almost two-thirds of this ($60.5 billion) has been provided by EU nations, and more than two-thirds of that from Germany -- a fact which Germany and the EU like to stress whenever the question of more money is raised. The United States has provided just under $12 billion.

And it has not paid it yet. At the Vancouver summit with President Boris Yeltsin in April 1993, President Clinton said he was "proud to announce" that the United States would provide an extra $1.6 billion for the fiscal year that ended in October, 1993, and a further $2.5 billion for the fiscal year ending in October 1994. As of this month, only two-thirds of the 1992-93 money had been disbursed, and less that 20 percent, of the 1993-94 money.

If the private, rather than the public sector, and trade rather than aid is the way to help Russia, then once again the figures suggest that the Europeans are playing the lead role, thanks in part to Europe's traditional imports of Russian energy and natural gas.

European Union countries imported $9.8 billion of goods from Russia in 1992, 20 times more than the United States imported. And while the CIS states had a joint $2.6 billion trade deficit with the United States, they enjoyed a trade surplus of $4.7 billion (an increase of over 60 percent in four years) with the EU.

The debate over aid for Russia has always assumed that financial support will be temporary, and that the eventual health of the economies of all the former Soviet republics will depend on their successful integration into the global economic system. In short, their future depends on trade.

In December, the EU became the first Western institution to sign a comprehensive trade cooperation agreement with Russia. Building on the 1989 agreement with the former U.S.S.R., which meant that 83 percent of EU imports from Russia have entered duty-free, the new agreement aims to free trade even further, and pledges the EU to promote full Russian membership of the GATT world trade agreement.

And yet Clinton in Brussels lectured the Europeans on the need to open their borders to Russian trade. That is not just leadership; it is also a pretty cool display of nerve.