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Albright challenges Congress on Russia

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) _ The Clinton administration is urging Congress not to abandon Russia despite frustration over crime, a crumbling economy and the alleged misuse of billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund.

Amid Republican threats to slash the administration's programs for Russia and the former Soviet states by up to a third, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chastised lawmakers for their ``hostile and dismissive'' attitude toward Russia.

``The suggestion made by some that Russia is ours to lose is arrogant,'' Albright said today at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

``The suggestion that Russia is lost is simply wrong.'' Earlier this week, House Republican leader Dick Armey called the Clinton administration's Russia policy ``the greatest U.S. foreign policy failure since Vietnam.''

And in a stinging bipartisan rebuke Tuesday, the House passed a bill, 419-0, that would slap harsh sanctions on countries supplying missile technology to Iran _ something Russian businesses have reportedly done. The Clinton administration vetoed a similar bill in 1997.

Albright unveiled no new initiatives today, but she said the administration's priorities were reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and fostering democracy.

``The overwhelming majority of our assistance dollars to Russia go to programs that lower the chance that weapons of mass destruction or sensitive missile technology will fall into the wrong hands,'' she contended.

But she said ``loose nukes'' are still a problem. She criticized Russia for complaining about the U.S. plan to develop THAAD, a high- altitude missile defense system, when Moscow's export control record is so poor. ``They cannot have it both ways,'' she asserted.

In a statement today, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the threat of sanctions could spark a reassessment of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nonproliferation and other security issues.

An analyst at CEIP said the Clinton administration should be taking the missile technology transfer issue very seriously. ``Iran is the biggest concern,'' said David Kramer, associate director of the Russia- Near East program.

He said it was not in Russia's interest to arm Iran with missiles, and that most Russian officials agree. The problem, he said, is that some Russian concerns are dealing with Iran without the approval _ and sometimes, without the knowledge _ of officials.

``The government needs to crack down on renegade institutions,'' Kramer said. But President Boris Yeltsin appears to be in no position crack down on anything, with calls for his resignation mounting even as Russia prepares for a parliamentary election in December and presidential polls next summer.

A string of terrorist bombings, apparently related to secessionist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan, has sparked speculation that Yeltsin might impose a state of emergency in an attempt to hang on as president _ a possibility Albright did not welcome.

``Nothing could do more damage to Russia, at home or abroad, than a failure to observe the constitutional process,'' she said.

Albright said an investigation would ascertain the truth of allegations that Russian officials and criminals siphoned off as much as $10 billion from IMF loans and other funds and laundered the money through the Bank of New York.

On Wednesday, sacked Russian prosecutor Yuri Skuratov alleged that only around 10 percent of a $4.8 billion IMF loan last year was used as intended _ to prop up the tottering Russian ruble _ and the rest went to favored banks.

Today, a State Department official who requested anonymity backed up the IMF's claim that so far, there is no new evidence that any IMF funds were misused.

A four-member Russian team is now consulting with Justice, Treasury and State Department officials to determine how to cooperate in the money laundering investigation.

Albright today said Russia is not doing enough on corruption and risks losing both multilateral and bilateral assistance if leaders don't start taking the problem seriously.

A spokeswoman for Armey was unimpressed, saying the administration's claims about accountability aren't backed up by follow-through.

``Two years ago, all we asked for was to make sure that money goes where it's supposed to, and not into a Swiss bank account,'' said Michele Davis.

A Russian official in Washington admitted scandals have occurred, but he pointed to the successful prosecution of a number of high officials for corruption.

``In Russia, as in any country _ as in the United States _ some people go around the law,'' said Mikhail Surgalin, press counselor at the Russian Embassy.

Even though the level of U.S. non-military aid to Russia is very low, said CEIP's Kramer, throwing money at Russia's problems won't help.

``We kid ourselves if we think huge sums of money would turn things around in Russia. They won't,'' he said. ``Russia can't absorb those sums in a proper way.''

He advocated continuing to lend Russia money through the IMF to prevent Moscow from defaulting on its loans. ``If things are bad now, they would be worse in a state of default,'' he warned.

The House Banking Committee has scheduled hearings on the scandal next week, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is likely to take up the topic as well, a spokesman for the committee said today. _-


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