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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Was Bush Wrong, or Just Blunt?

"We went into Russia, we said, СHereТs some IMF money,Т and it ended up in Viktor ChernomyrdinТs pocket and others.ТТ

Ч George W. Bush at Wednesday nightТs U.S. presidential debates

Bush has been taking a beating over that comment. The International Monetary Fund offers a wide-eyed shrug. Chernomyrdin talks of suing.

And The Washington Post, in an article about the debates that ran on the front of this paper Friday, concluded: "Bush appears to have tangled up whispers about possible wrongdoing by Chernomyrdin Е with other unrelated allegations concerning the diversion of International Monetary Fund money. While there has been speculation that Chernomyrdin profited from his relationship with Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly privatized on his tenure, there have been no allegations he stole IMF money."

Now, itТs true thereТs such a kaleidoscope of corruption allegations involving both Chernomyrdin and the IMF that it is easy to mix them up. That in itself ought to give pause to all those piling on to condemn BushТs attack on the Russian reform record Ч a record that even Chernomyrdin, on a visit to Washington almost exactly a year ago, sheepishly admitted was very dubious: "With such a huge country conducting such a large-scale privatization everywhere, of course, we made mistakes," he said then.

ItТs not clear whether Chernomyrdin would number the 1992 privatization of Gazprom among such "mistakes." But itТs widely believed that it filled ChernomyrdinТs pockets with shares.

Chernomyrdin has denied this Ч sometimes. At other times, he is more playful. We remember his coy response to a question on the floor of parliament in the fall of 1995 Ч at a time when his Our Home Is Russia party was universally being derided as "Our Home Gazprom" Ч about how many Gazprom shares he owned. Chernomyrdin paused, smiled, and replied: "Next question."

In May 1995, former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, writing in Izvestia, attacked GazpromТs privatization as "the biggest robbery of the century, perhaps of human history." Fyodorov asked why the natural gas monopoly stock had been divided up among top management insiders, with each getting from 1 percent to 5 percent of the company, or "a potential Е minimum of from $1.2 billion to $10 billion each."

ItТs a good question. And even as the Russian government was handing out multibillion-dollar privatization freebies, the IMF was gearing up to fill the empty federal coffers with multibillion-dollar loan tranches. So was BushТs crime that he was inaccurate Ч or simply that he cut to the chase?