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Economy: Gore Adviser Says Russian Corruption Hard To Fight

The man who may be the next White House national security adviser says the West can help Russian President Vladimir Putin fight corruption in his country. But he says the job ultimately must be done by the Moscow government itself. Washington correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 26 July 2000 (RFE/RL) - The national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Al Gore says the American government is doing everything it can to help Moscow fight corruption in Russia.

But the adviser, Leon Fuerth, emphasized that the U.S. and other Western countries can only help. The prime responsibility for fighting corruption, he said, lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Fuerth likely would become the White House national security advisor if Gore is elected president in November. He made his comments Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think-tank.

Gore's adviser said the U.S. administration of the current president, Bill Clinton, has done as much as it can to help the Russian government fight corruption by strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the two countries, helping the Duma draw up new legislation for Russia's civil, criminal, and bankruptcy laws, and by supporting programs in Russia that promote the rule of law.

But Fuerth conceded that corruption as rampant as that in Russia cannot be eradicated overnight because it is not a new phenomenon.

"Deeply engrained corruption predates the Russian Federation. Institutionalized corruption virtually defined the Soviet state. It was not an invention of the new Russia, and the cure for it will require years of struggle."

Fuerth was asked what further the U.S. can do to fight corruption. The questioner dismissed what he called "petty" corruption, like the bribery of low-level government officials. Instead, he wanted to know how Russia could be helped fighting the organized-crime gangs that quickly came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Fuerth responded by cautioning against minimize the importance of petty bribery.

"Every time you have somebody in a position to say, "No," and if you have a system that requires that you pass scores of people on your way possibly to "yes," you are in effect institutionalizing and motivating corruption that may be petty at any given point, but in the aggregate becomes a huge drag on the desire and the ability of people to develop the Russian economy on a privatized basis."

As for organized crime, Fuerth said the West must encourage Russia to join in the worldwide fight against corruption and narcotics trafficking. He said this problem is -- in his words -- "bigger than any one of us and requires all of us." He said that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, international organized crime is both importing and exporting contraband -- including drugs -- into and out of Russia.

"That requires a worldwide effort with Russian participation. One of the things that we would like as a practical matter is for the Russians to approve the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which is pending before their Duma. Because without that treaty, we don't have in place the basic machinery to facilitate the kinds of interstate cooperation that you require in order to deal with this form of corruption."

Fuerth said he and Gore are concerned about Putin's record since he took over the presidency from Boris Yeltsin on Jan. 1. He said Putin's ideas of a strong Russia are "contradictory and sometimes ominous." He said the war in Chechnya could become a "second Afghanistan." He decried Putin's restrictions on the news media.

The adviser to Gore said Moscow has much to do to improve economic relations with the West in general and the U.S. in particular. This includes reforming the Russian judiciary, updating tax laws, passing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, adopting Western accounting practices, and reforming its banking system.

But overall, Fuerth endorsed Putin's economic plan.

"His program is a program of vigorous economic reform along lines that we ourselves would have advocated -- and in fact did advocate it from the beginning of our close association with the Russian government. His program -- if it is carried out -- offers the single greatest hope for the rebirth of the Russian economy under conditions that are compatible with political freedom."

A questioner alluded to this statement when he noted that Zbigniew Brzezinski addressed the same forum last week. The questioner recalled that Brzezinski -- the national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s -- accused Fuerth of mistakenly believing that free markets lead to greater democracy.

Fuerth said he does not believe that one automatically leads to the other.

"But I believe that the weight of practical experience does indicate that if you try to pursue market reform while at the same time sustaining a repressive system, something has to give. Either the market reform goes bad or the repressive system blows up."

Still, Fuerth said he remains deeply troubled about the war in Chechnya. He said the Clinton administration has pressed Putin's government to seek a diplomatic solution to Chechens' desire for independence. And he said the only way the current Russian government can hope to maintain legitimacy is to seriously investigate accusations that its forces have committed atrocities against civilians in the breakaway republic.