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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Policy Toward Russia Brings Mixed Reviews

WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton was only half joking when he said in 1993, "Gosh, I miss the Cold War."Clinton, of course, was referring to the clarity of those four decades of U.S.-Soviet rivalry - in contrast to the murkiness of the post-Soviet era.

Now, seven years later, things are no less opaque than they were when Clinton made that statement.

The Russians have a way of keeping people confused by seemingly reaching out in all directions.

And the confusion extends to the assessments of U.S.-Russian relations, with Clinton trumpeting major advances and critics expressing despair over what his policies have wrought.

There are times when Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official, seems nostalgic for the old days.

This week features a Putin visit to Cuba, a one-time Cold War ally of Moscow. Last week, he proposed restoring the Soviet national anthem as well as the Soviet era insignia for the Russian armed forces.

Two weeks ago, Russia unilaterally walked away from a 1995 agreement with the United States that barred Moscow from making new weapons deals with Iran.

But there are occasions when Putin shows a conciliatory side toward Washington - as in his recent decision to pardon an American, suffering from ill health, just days after he had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on spy charges.

And a newly released White House "Fact Sheet" highlights perceived gains in relations under Clinton.

At Washington's prodding, the document says, Moscow dispatched troops to the Balkans to participate in NATO missions. Clinton also won Russian support for an agreement to end the Kosovo war. In addition, the document touts the institutional links Moscow has established with NATO. As part of that process, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov later this week in Brussels.

As Stephen Sestanovich, the top State Department Russian affairs expert, notes in the current issue of The National Interest, dire predictions by critics of a lasting U.S.-Russian estrangement have not come to pass.

That was the fear when three former Soviet allies - Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic - joined NATO last year. Moscow, the critics said, would retaliate by refusing to ratify a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Washington. Moscow ratified it last April.

Still, Russia has shown a deep reluctance to participate in Western-dominated institutions - if membership means accepting certain conditions.

An example is its attitude toward joining the World Trade Organization, which sets rules for international commerce. The Russian hesitance contrasts sharply with China's determined bid to join the WTO, a step anticipated in early 2001.

Some of the criticism of Clinton's Russia policies is unsparing.

Republican Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, a Republican and a Russian affairs expert, faults Clinton for continuing to embrace former President Boris Yeltsin in the face of theft of International Monetary Fund loans by criminal elements and other abuses.

"It wasn't surprising to me that polls last year showed that less than 2 percent of the Russian people were behind Boris Yeltsin,"Weldon says. "The only support behind Boris Yeltsin last year was Bill Clinton ... and we wonder why the Russian people lost confidence in America."

And Peter Reddaway, of George Washington University, says Western economic policies have had a devastating effect on Russia.

"The majority of Russians, who a decade ago saw democracy and free markets as beacons of hope, now see before their eyes ugly perversions of these institutions and wonder if they just won't work in Russia,"he says. "Opinion polls show profound doubt and even despair about Russia's future. They also show that that anti-Americanism has permeated the whole society and is probably now deeper than at any time in Russian history.

"A substantial majority believe that the United States and the West have weakened Russia deliberately in order to exploit and humiliate it."