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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Withdrawing Western Aid Won't Help

Ostensibly, it is an encouraging sign that the West has been sufficiently stirred by recent events in Chechnya to reconsider its hitherto unstinting support for President Boris Yeltsin. Any pressure that can be applied to ensure Yeltsin's commitment to reform and to halt the bloodshed in the North Caucasus is to be welcomed.


But at the same time it raises the broader and much more important question of the West's longer-term attitude to Russia. The issue is particularly pertinent this week, when a delegation from the International Monetary Fund is in Moscow to consider whether to go ahead with a proposed $6.5 billion loan to bolster the Russian economy.


The West is facing a difficult dilemma.


If, as might be reasonably expected, the main criterion for going ahead with the loan was the degree of responsibility that the government is showing in its economic policy, then recent events would appear to rule it out straightaway. The gross mishandling of the 1995 draft budget, the duplicity in dealing with oil export quotas and the new doubts about the next stage of privatization would provide sufficient reason to disqualify Russia from the loan -- even without the squandering of trillions of rubles on an unnecessary and brutal war.


But what is the alternative? Without Western investment and aid, there is little doubt that the reform process would collapse and Russia's tentative experiment with democracy would be over. This huge country, replete with one of the world's largest armies and certainly its second-largest nuclear arsenal, would descend rapidly into internal strife and utter chaos, posing a catastrophic threat to world stability.


The West must accordingly be prepared to overlook some of the political and economic indicators when it addresses the issue of continued support for Russia. But this does not necessarily mean giving unconditional backing to Yeltsin.


One hopes the West learned its lesson with Mikhail Gorbachev, on whom it continued to lavish praise and favor long after he lost the trust of the Russian people and began turning back frantically on the reform process he had launched.


Yeltsin, in turn, should realize that his attendance at summits or meetings of the world's leading economic powers is only desirable if Russia shows its determination to stay in the civilized world. When he acts as atrociously as he has in Chechnya, it is right that the world should show its revulsion.


Where financial support is concerned, it is only reasonable to expect Russia to provide some kind of guarantee that the aid goes where it should. But to take it away altogether would deprive the West of the only lever it has on Russian policy. Without the carrot, the stick will do nothing.