It's time for the United States to give Russia "more than just conversation," says former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Robert Strauss.
Strauss joins former President Richard Nixon in the ranks of prominent Americans urging President-elect Clinton to step up U.S. efforts to bolster Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin."We have to do something over there that the Russians can understand, feel, hold onto, see, something tangible," Strauss said in an interview Tuesday.
A week ago, Nixon wrote an article in The New York Times in which he called for a dramatic acceleration of Western aid to Russia.
"If Mr. Yeltsin fails, we will again live in a dangerous world, with the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads," wrote Nixon.
But so far, although Clinton was critical in the campaign of Bush's response to events in Russia, he has given no signal that he plans major changes in policy.
A Clinton foreign policy adviser, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said the program eventually put together by the Re-pub-lican president and passed by Congress "is not materially different from the program Clinton put forward. It's the same order of magnitude. He's been supportive of it."
The U.S. aid package was part of a $24 billion Western effort. But very little of that was in direct financial assistance. Most of the U.S. contribution was in the form of agricultural credits to help Russia purchase U.S. commodities.
In addition, Congress approved a $12 billion increase in the U.S. contribution to the International Monetary Fund along with $1.5 billion toward a $6 billion international fund to prop up the ruble. The ruble-stabilization fund exists only on paper and won't come into play until the Russian economy shows signs of turning around from its current inflation rate of more than 250 percent a year.
One idea gaining support is the appointment of a special coordinator for assistance to Russia.
Two senators who recently returned from a visit to five former Soviet republics warned that "this is a high-risk period." They urged Bush and Clinton to work together in developing more aggressive policies to help Yeltsin and his reform program survive.
Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, recommended appointment of a coordinator to keep policy from stagnating during the transition.
"The clock is ticking and we have to deal with these things," said Nunn.
"This is a high-risk period," said Lugar. "Awesome nuclear weapons remain . . . still in place, still on alert."