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Russia: U.S. Policies Encourage Corruption, Say Clinton Foes

Corruption in Russian is again the subject of a hearing in the U.S. Congress, and the administration of President Bill Clinton is again facing criticism from members of the Republican Party, which opposes his policies. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports on the latest, and so far most heated, of the hearings.

Washington, 20 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. congressman who opposes President Bill Clinton says his policies encourage corruption in Russia.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) made the accusation Tuesday during a hearing of the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress.

The remarks were directed at Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Clinton's leading expert on Russia. Talbott was testifying at one of several congressional hearings over the past month focusing on Russian corruption. These hearings have been held both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, the upper house.

One member of the committee asked rhetorically why some people are surprised at the corruption in Russia. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a supporter of Clinton, argued that corruption has flourished there for centuries, and persisted through seven decades of communist rule.

"Crime used to be a monopoly of the government; it has now become privatized. But to be surprised, to be surprised that there is crime and corruption in Russia reveals to me a degree of historical amnesia which is almost frightening."

Rohrabacher responded that the Clinton administration prefers giving financial assistance directly to the Russian government. Direct transfers of money to the government, he said, encourages corruption. Instead, he argued, the U.S. should stress to Russia the importance of opening itself to more foreign commerce.

"I agree with Mr. Lantos, it should have been no surprise that there was going to be private-sector corruption during this transition [to democracy]. What is a surprise is this administration's policies in light of the fact that this was a predictable situation. And the administration's policies, I believe, have led to a capital drain in Russia and led to the institution of corruption in the Russian government."

Talbott acknowledged that there had been mistakes in the Clinton administration's policy on Russia. He cited what he suggested was America's weak support for bills passed by the Duma, Russia's legislature, that would have fought money laundering -- the practice of moving illegally earned cash through many accounts to hide its source. Yeltsin twice vetoed that legislation.

"I think that we should have been more public and emphatic in pushing a money-laundering bill with the Russians."

But Talbott stressed that the U.S. must continue with its current policies on Russia.

"If the Russians are going to succeed in the positive aspects of what they are trying to do, it is going to be with the help of the outside world. The United States must continue to be a leader in that effort."

And Talbott urged the Russian government to act on its own to institute internal reforms.

"But in the final analysis, Russia is going to succeed or fail only if it can institute the principle of accountability in the way it does business."

Rohrabacher refused to accept Talbott's defense of the Clinton administration. The Republican listed many examples of policies that he said fell far short of their goals of helping Russia's transition from communist dictatorship to a free-market democracy.

"Your goals are certainly laudable, but your policies to achieve those goals have been miserable failures. And I wish you success in the future, but I would hope that we -- I think we need a change in those policies."