NEWS ANALYSIS : U.S., Soviets: True Allies for 1st Time Since Their WWII Armies Linked Up? : ‘Postwar’ aid: Now there is no Cold War Marshall Plan--no billions in direct assistance for rebuilding.
When Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev this week, Gorbachev thanked him effusively “for the solidarity of the American people” during last month’s abortive coup.
With a show of emotion, he presented Baker with a gift-wrapped copy of the videotaped appeal for support that he surreptitiously made with his home camera during his three-day detention in the Crimea.
In return, Baker gravely handed the Soviet president an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 21, the day the coup collapsed--"a day in our history,” Baker said, “in which you and the Russian people were very much in our hopes and prayers.”
For the first time since 1945, when their armies linked up at Germany’s Elbe River, the United States and the Soviet Union are talking like genuine allies--countries with common goals, fully committed to helping each other succeed.
As recently as July, when President Bush visited Moscow, the two governments treated each other like wary partners--they pledged to cooperate, but still were aware that their interests could diverge.
The coup changed that. Soviet officials say they are convinced that Bush’s quick action in condemning the plot played a significant role in its collapse--and their own survival. Andrei V. Kozyrev, foreign minister of the Russian Federation, even referred to the United States on Thursday as “the greatest democracy in the world,” a model Soviet republics should emulate.
And the democratic surge that followed the coup has swept away most reservations that Bush and Baker still had about the Soviet command. In little more than three weeks, Gorbachev has freed the three Baltic states, announced a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Cuba, suspended the Communist Party’s operations and endorsed sweeping economic reforms--all faster than the United States had ever dared to ask.
As a result, Baker has declared more strongly than ever before that the United States is fully committed to ensuring that the newly democratic Soviet government succeeds. “The world understands that there has been a political revolution here. . . , " Baker said Thursday. “We’re very anxious to see democracy succeed. We’re very anxious to see (economic) reforms succeed.”
In practice, he acknowledged, that means an increased U.S. commitment to help Soviet reformers remake their moribund economy. “It’s important that all of us who believe in freedom and democracy and free markets be there to support their economic reforms. .” a senior State Department official said. “It could mean the success or failure of the democratic experiment here.”
In a sense, the Bush Administration is repeating the role America played in West Germany and Japan after World War II: After defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States is assuming the responsibility of rebuilding its new ally on Western lines.
But there is a key difference. After World War II, the United States pumped billions of dollars in direct aid into the war-ravaged economies of Western Europe and Japan. This time, officials said, the Administration wants to do the job without spending much money. When a reporter asked Baker about the prospects for long term U.S. aid, he quickly corrected him: “Economic cooperation.”
Some U.S. officials contend the Soviet Union does not need direct financial aid--that with its wealth of natural resources, advice and technical help should suffice. Others say cash would certainly help but argue that there isn’t enough money in all the West’s aid budgets combined to fix the Soviet economy.
Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who, since his resignation last year, has become something of a private adviser to Baker, said Thursday that massive cash or credits would be essential. “To extricate the country from its current crisis, we need astronomical amounts of money,” Shevardnadze said after meeting with Baker. “We have to buy a lot of grain--a huge amount of grain--and this is the assistance we expect.”
But Baker has refused to discuss what kind of increased aid--or, to use his term, cooperation--the United States and other Western countries might be willing to produce. He has assured Soviet leaders that the West will “be there” if they need food, medicine and fuel to survive the coming winter. But he has ducked questions on details of any long-term program.
Instead, he has repeated over and over that the West can help the Soviet Union only if the country adopts “a very credible free-market economic reform program.” His insistence on the point--and his reluctance to discuss any details--suggest that he is still unsure that Gorbachev and Yeltsin are ready to “bite the bullet,” as he put it.
“Economic revolution will not be easy,” Baker noted, adding that a turn toward the free market will require allowing prices to rise and ending subsidies on rents, utilities and other basic goods that many Soviet citizens consider their birthright.
Just as with Germany and Japan after World War II, sponsoring an economic transformation has meant that the United States is getting deeply involved in the Soviet Union’s internal politics. He offered advice not only to Gorbachev and Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, but to dozens of lesser officials, economic experts, opposition figures and leaders from the other, 11 remaining republics. He will even visit the once-feared KGB secret police today, a first for an American official.
Never before has a U.S. Administration immersed itself so deeply in Soviet affairs. And not since Peter the Great summoned architects and managers from Europe has the Russian Empire sought outside advice so willingly.
When Baker arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, he said he had three basic questions: Could the Soviet republics find a way to work together or at least to manage the disintegration of their 74-year-old union peacefully? Could they assure the United States that their 30,000 nuclear weapons were under control? And could they come up with a workable economic reform plan?
He says he has received positive answers to at least the first two questions.
Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin told him they have agreed to keep the Soviet arsenal under the central government’s control. Soviet Defense Minister Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov plans to give Baker an unprecedented detailed briefing today on Soviet safeguards against an accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
But on the economy, Baker has had to hedge, because the new National Economy Committee has yet to produce a reform plan. Its chairman, Ivan A. Silayev, said Thursday that he expects the plan to be ready by month’s end, but other officials have forecast a delay of at least four weeks. U.S. officials traveling with Baker have held extensive meetings with the panel’s members but have declined to discuss their findings with reporters.