It's Too Early To Bankroll Soviet Reform

Remember glasnost? Perestroika? They have bloomed again in the Soviet spring after a winter of crackdowns and backsliding that all but buried reform. Whether the thaw is a result of tactical politics or a sincere desire to avert looming economic collapse, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his archrival, Russian Republic leader Boris Yeltsin, seem to have found an accommodation. Their recent agreements with other republics on democratic and economic reform are creating a broad constituency for change that has more potential than anything the West has yet seen for solving the Soviet Union's crisis.

It should be no surprise that the Soviet reformers, like their Eastern European counterparts, are turning to the West for help. Working with Harvard Professor Jeffrey Sachs, they have wasted no time in floating ideas for as much as $100 billion in infusions from the West to encourage privatization, spur market pricing, and, above all, preserve Soviet stability. Many of these ideas are intriguing, and a time may come when it will be in the national interest of the U. S. to pony up hard cash for Soviet reforms. But Moscow has a long way to go before the Administration can justify that use of taxpayer funds.

The Bush Administration already has linked expanded access to Western markets and inclusion in such Western institutions as the International Monetary Fund to democratic and economic reforms in Moscow. And there is some thinking that Western development-bank funds could be wisely used to help provide the capital to repair the spotty Soviet food-distribution system.

That's enough for now. Before there is any direct U. S. aid for Soviet reforms, Moscow must demonstrate its commitment to change with concrete actions. Massive spending on the Soviet military must go instead to the civilian economy. A reform plan and timetable, supported by continuing democratic processes, must be in place. As in arms control, direct backing for Soviet reform should be governed by another axiom of the glasnost period: Trust, but verify.