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Russia: Talbott Has Praise And A Warning For Russia

Washington, 30 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had some praise and some strong words of warning for Russia in a major address reviewing developments in that country and the state of U.S.-Russian relations.

He praised Russia's progress toward democracy and decentralization since the fall of communism as being in the right direction, but warned in a speech in New York City Tuesday that Russia could stray onto paths that would make the country's future "as ugly and dangerous as its past."

Talbott said America must oppose what Russian democrats and reformers oppose "first and foremost, the brutalization of Chechnya."

He said the United States should associate itself with those Russians who want the center to learn from the Chechen tragedy "the right lessons about dealing with the regions."

But Talbott reserved his strongest criticism for what he described as outdated distrust and suspicion among some Russians of U.S. intentions. He said this could weaken the U.S-Russian partnership and lead to less cooperation and more competition between the two countries.

"It would be bad for everyone, but without doubt it would be particularly bad for the Russians themselves," he said.

Talbott, the number two man at the U.S. State Department and architect of U.S. policy toward Russia, says Russian suspicions, Russian conspiracy theories and what he calls "Russian old-think" will only generate mistrust in America, where some circles are also prejudiced, believing "that Russia is a stunted U.S.S.R. just itching to return to its former size and its former obnoxious ways."

Talbott cautioned that "suspicions of each other's motives could prove self-justifying, and pessimistic prophecies about the future of the relationship may be self fulfilling."

He said Russia would risk repeating the mistakes of the old Soviet Union -- "defining its security at the expense of everyone else's and misdefining security itself as the expensive and wasteful capacity to destroy and intimidate."

Talbott spoke at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, the oldest academic center for Russian studies in America, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. It is named after the late U.S. statesman W. Averell Harriman who was America's wartime ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1943 to 1946 and helped administer the Marshall Plan recovery program.

Talbott said America believes that Russia's human and natural resources, not its military might, are the elements that will make it truly secure and influential. And he urged the Russian people and leadership to believe that the United States wants to see a democratic, secure, stable, and prosperous Russia integrated into a community of other democratic states.

To achieve this end, he said the United States must continue to encourage and sponsor Russia's membership in international organizations.

But ties with one international body -- NATO -- will be an important test of the U.S.-Russian relationship, Talbott said, adding that he has worked hardest to resolve the disagreement with Moscow over NATO enlargement.

Talbot expressed confidence that a "modus vivendi" is possible between Russia and NATO but says "it will take political will on both sides and will require that both sides get past the stereotypes of the Cold War."

In his assessment of Russia's progress in the last five years, Talbott praised Russia for keeping "irredentist impulses largely in check," noting that just last week President Boris Yeltsin repudiated a Duma resolution laying claim to the Crimea and Black Sea fleet.

But he also said that Russians still have tough choices ahead of them and that there are still plenty of questions and plenty of anxieties among Russia's neighbors.

Talbott said the United States "should be alert to warning signs, but should also listen to the dogs that are not barking in the former Soviet Union today."

How Moscow will handle relations with other former Soviet republics and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States will help determine whether the entity survives and prospers. Talbott said if Russia tries to infringe on others' independence, "then the CIS will deserve to join that other set of initials, U.S.S.R., on the ash heap of history."

He also spoke about Russia's economic problems, observing that "Russia urgently needs a prompt and massive overhaul of its tax collection system." The government's failure to collect revenue jeopardizes the country's financial health and impedes U.S. ability to support reforms, Talbott said.

He noted that the struggle over privatization is being waged with "particular ferocity."

Talbott said experts are concerned about a general climate of lawlessness and lack of regulation. "Crime and corruption...threaten to discredit and even doom reform," he said, urging a greater state commitment to the protection of property rights and enforcement of law in Russia.

Talbott said it will take many more years for Russia to complete its transformation, at least another generation.

"The consummation of the process now under way in Russia will require the passing from the scene of those who learned too well the Soviet way of doing things, or of not doing them," Talbott said, adding "it will require the passing of those who are embittered about what they feel Russia lost between 1989 and 1991....that generation must give way to a new one imbued with an understanding of what Russia has gained in these last few years...freedom."