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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slow-Paced Reforms Threaten Aid Money

U.S. funding for aid programs to Russia is in trouble because of growing frustration on the part of American lawmakers with the pace of reforms here, Ruth Harkin, president of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp., said in an interview Friday. "There's an expectation on behalf of many appropriators and lawmakers that there should have been more progress in terms of law changes by now," Harkin said in Moscow after a trip to the Far East with U.S. business executives. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Clinton administration's $13.6 billion foreign-aid package but only after some lawmakers had objected to the $900 million in aid to the states of the former Soviet Union. "Foreign aid bills are never popular, particularly in an election year," said Harkin, whose agency provides loans, loan guarantees and insurance to U.S. companies for overseas investments. Nevertheless, Harkin told a news conference Thursday that the agency would commit $2.5 billion in Russia and the newly independent states by September 1995, up from $1.5 billion approved so far. However, she told the news conference that the agency remains concerned about the uncertainty in the country's tax system. Harkin said the agency's projects could serve to ease U.S. frustrations over the progress of reforms because its funds promoted actual business deals that American taxpayers could see. "It's a lot easier to develop individual projects than a uniform commercial code," she said. To date, the board of the agency has approved $1.06 billion in insurance, loans and loan guarantees to U.S. companies doing business in the former Soviet Union. The figure includes $665 million of insurance for 29 projects and $395 million in loans and loan guarantees. Most of the projects have been in Russia so far, including loans to major oil and telecommunications projects. The agency is lending $50 million to the Polar Lights oil project, a $375 million joint venture of U.S.-based Conoco Inc. It is also providing a $75 million low-interest credit to the Russian Telecommunications Development Corp., a venture of telecommunications giant U.S. West. Harkin defended the loans to such large companies, saying that without such assistance the companies might not be doing business in Russia. "Even though a company may be large and have a lot of resources it won't go into an area without the full faith and credit of the U.S. government," she said. But the agency will soon be introducing a fund that will be targeted at small and medium-sized U.S. businesses, she said. The stepped-up U.S. commitment comes as European government financing agencies have reduced their activity in Russia compared to levels during the Gorbachev era. European companies and governments now hold huge debts from loans made during the Soviet era. "There's been a reluctance on the part of many of OPIC's counterparts in Europe to do anything at all in this country," she said. "I think it's in our national security interest to have our neck out."