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Russia: Albright Defends U.S. Policy

Washington, 17 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has defended America's role in fostering peace, security, and democracy in Russia, amid domestic criticism over the administration's U.S.-Russia policy.

Albright's address at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday was billed as a major U.S. foreign policy speech on Russia. But RFE/RL's correspondent reports the secretary broke little new ground.

Albright reiterated the United States' commitment to reduce cold war arsenals, stop proliferation, and create a stable and undivided Europe. At the same time, she said the U.S. continues to support Russia's efforts to transform its political, economic and social institutions at home.

Albright said neither of those two long-standing U.S. foreign policy goals have been achieved. Nor, in Albright's words, have they been lost.

Of greater interest, our correspondent reports, were Albright's remarks on corruption in Russia and the status of U.S. aid to Moscow.

The U.S. Congress has scheduled formal hearings next week following allegations of what could be the biggest Russian money-laundering scheme ever in the United States. U.S. congressional leaders have said they will be looking into -- among other things -- why the administration claimed that Russia was a success story when, in some congressional leaders' views, Russia has been "lost."

Albright responded directly to the criticism, saying the suggestion was not only "arrogant," but, in her view, "simply wrong."

At the same time, she challenged Russian President Boris Yeltsin's government to join the issue of fighting graft more actively.

Albright said: "President Yeltsin's government needs -- at last -- to make fighting corruption a priority. The Russian legal system remains no match for well-connected criminals. And the tentacles of Russian organized crime have spread far beyond the nation's borders. Some Russians attribute the furor over corruption to a desire by the West to embarrass Moscow, or to electoral politics here in the United States. These are fantasies. The problem is real and must be taken seriously."

Albright added that the United States was encouraged that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent a high-level delegation to the United States this week to discuss issues involved in the current controversy. And she acknowledged that the problem of corruption was by no means limited to Russia.

Albright said the focus in the days ahead in Russia should be on enacting anti-crime and money-laundering legislation, forwarding financial sector reform, and establishing transparency and accountability overall. At the same time, she urged both supporters and detractors to "keep our heads about us." She said it was right to focus on the cloud of corruption in Russia. But she stressed that it was not the whole picture.

The secretary said:"In recent years, Russia has moved from one critical point to another; the confrontation with parliament; the war in Chechnya; the rise of extreme nationalists; the resurgence of hard-line communists; the financial crisis; the disagreement over Kosovo; and now investigations into money laundering and corruption. Each time the chorus has arisen to pronounce the death of the new Russia. Each time the Russian people have refused to attend the funeral."

Republican Congressman Dick Armey of Texas disagrees. In remarks for the record just two days earlier, he said it was clear there was nothing left of U.S.-Russia policy to save. Armey further added that the alleged financial graft in Russia marks the ineffective end of the adminstration's approach to Russian reform.

The chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Republican Ben Gilman from New York, has delivered equally critical remarks. And our correspondent notes that therein perhaps lies the true nature of Secretary Albright's address.