A storm is brewing in Moscow. On Mar. 17, rightwingers, who claim among other things that the U.S. plans a military occupation of the former Soviet Union, will march there against democracy. On the same day, up to 800 former deputies of the disbanded Congress of People's Deputies may call for a return of Soviet power. Meanwhile, a former aide to Mikhail S. Gorbachev warns that another hard-line coup d'etat is in the works. Against this unsettling backdrop, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin is forging ahead with his painful economic shock therapy. Further price hikes on bread and fuel will rock consumers, while a massive restructuring of industry could toss millions out of work.
So far, there has been an unsettling absence of American efforts to rally support for Yeltsin. The Russian leader's ouster or the defeat of his reforms could mushroom into a disaster for the West. But George Bush, who played such a crucial leadership role in other big international events of his Presidency, has been surprisingly mute. He seems to be paralyzed by isolationist Patrick Buchanan's criticism of his supposed overemphasis on foreign policy.
`INFINITELY WORSE.' Bush's behavior has badly alarmed key European leaders along with many internationalists such as former President Richard M. Nixon. They insist that Bush is squandering an enormous opportunity that he helped create. "If Yeltsin fails, the alternative isn't going to be somebody better but somebody infinitely worse," Nixon says.
But the danger goes beyond Russia. With the cold war over, the world is waiting for Bush to define the New World Order that he promoted during the Kuwait crisis. While he frets over primary victories and delegate counts, Bush may be missing a chance to favorably define America's role in the world for many years as well as his own place in history. If he is passive, it can only reinforce the notion that the U.S. is losing power to Germany and Japan, which have economic clout but not enough political authority to keep such bullies as Saddam Hussein in line. "Dictatorship rather than democracy will be the wave of the future," Nixon says.
Right now, action on aid for Russia is the chief litmus test of Bush's statesmanship. So far, Washington has allocated only $1.5 billion in outright aid and another $3.75 billion in loan guarantees for food exports. Germany, by contrast, has provided more than $35 billion in trade credits and aid, much of it to induce Soviet forces to leave eastern Germany. But the point is less money than leadership. Russia scares Europe more than it does the U.S. The collapse of Russia, says Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, "is the biggest single threat to continuing European integration."
BETTER SLEEP. There is much to be gained by orchestrating a world deal on Soviet aid. A strong initiative on Russia from Washington could sweep away a lot of European skepticism about America's future role in their environs. Japanese-Russian tensions over the occupied Kuril Islands, seized by Stalin during World War II, could also be eased in a broad aid-for-political considerations swap.
The U.S. could also buy itself better sleep at night. By working closely with Yeltsin, Bush could influence orderly disarmament. Americans seem to have forgotten there are many strategic nuclear weapons still threatening them in the former Soviet Union, says Yuri Pinchukov, an arms control expert from the Institute of World Economy & International Relations in Moscow. But if hardliners seize control in Moscow, the cold war might begin all over again.
The government is set to approve the purchase by Air France of a one-third stake in its airline, Sabena World Airways. But analysts are wondering why Brussels wants to pair bloated Sabena with another state-owned money-loser. The answer is that overstaffed Sabena is willing to try anything to wiggle out of cutting jobs in the shakeout expected in the airline industry when Europe's single market opens. The government spurned deals with KLM and British Airways, free-marketers that have tough restructuring plans in mind. It prefers undemanding Air France, which mainly wants to block rivals from using the Brussels hub. Belgium is forging ahead with a costly expansion of Brussels' Zaventem airport -- although Air France could eventually diminish its clout as a hub.
The Polish government appears to be underestimating the country's political will to put up with pain for the sake of economic reform. The fledgling government of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski seemed determined to turn back the clock on economic reform. But in early March, the Polish parliament rejected the Prime Minister's plans to increase government spending and expand the money supply. Many economists had warned that such moves would reignite hyperinflation.
Prime Minister P. V. Narashimha Rao's victory in a vote of confidence on Mar. 11 is clearing the way for shifts that are radical for India's state-directed economy. The new Prime Minister wants to allow foreign companies control of their joint ventures with Indian partners. Rao is also pushing for reductions in subsidies. Since last fall, India has approved more than $100 million in foreign investments, including projects by IBM, Du Pont, and General Electric.