For many, the judgment is already in about the Clinton administration's policy toward Russia. Allegations abound about the policy in general, and the role of the vice president in supporting that policy specifically.
It is time to set the record straight. I was present at the creation of U.S. policy toward Russia and the other New Independent States, working for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott when he was a special adviser to the president and secretary of state on these issues.Administration policy from the beginning has been focused on the process of reform and reformers, at all levels of government in Russia. It has also kept, successfully, the strategic interests of the United States and its allies at the forefront of our bilateral agenda.
Central to the implementation of the more positive trends in U.S.-Russian policy has been the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, chaired by Vice President Al Gore and the prime minister of Russia.
Yes, Russia has very serious problems. There are any number of ruts - and even craters - on the road to political and economic stability. But in answering the question of whether U.S. policy has thus far been constructive, it is essential to look at some of the overall achievements of that policy.
On the security front, because of U.S. engagement with the Russian government, more than 1,500 Russian nuclear warheads have been deactivated. We have an ongoing program that has helped keep Russian weapons of mass destruction from being sold off to the highest bidder. Russian troops have withdrawn from Central Europe and the Baltic states. Russia signed a cooperative agreement with NATO. And Russian and U.S. troops have served side-by-side in Bosnia and Kosovo.
On the political and economic front, Russia is now an electoral democracy, with a growing number of political candidates and politicians active in the political process. Communism has been dismantled. The privatization process, for all its problems, has transferred two-thirds of Russian property from the state to the private sector.
There is an active and growing small business sector. Despite (some may say because of) the 1998 ruble crisis, industrial production has improved in Russia by 13 percent over the past year.
And Vice President Gore, as the American chair of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission, has played a part in making progress in these and other important but not so glamorous areas like agribusiness, defense conversion and environmental cooperation.
In all, the commission has eight committees and two working groups that meet regularly throughout the year to promote mutually beneficial objectives and a strong partnership with the private sector and non-governmental organizations in both countries.
Some of the commission's achievements include: an agreement to end the production of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons; conversion to civilian use of Russian military facilities that were involved with the production of nuclear weapons; reducing trade barriers for U.S. products; space cooperation; and stemming a diphtheria epidemic in Russia. The battle to combat corruption in Russia is an important part of the commission's work. It has a law-enforcement working group that is developing policies and programs on how to best tackle this issue. And just this past June, the vice president and the Russian prime minister directed the commission to intensify its efforts on this front.
These efforts are in sync with other efforts being made by the administration to push back against corruption. President Clinton, most recently at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in New Zealand, and the vice president have over the years spoken out against this problem.
Overall administration efforts, in coordination with the U.S.-Russia Commission, have focused on two tracks: law-enforcement actions and support for the rule of law. Law-enforcement efforts include coordination and cooperation between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement experts and the Russian government. Rule of law projects include help in drafting civil, criminal and bankruptcy codes, as well as the training of judges and helping Russian law schools.
While the results of these and other efforts are not as far-reaching as people's expectations, a foundation has, nonetheless, been laid for the rule of law in Russia. But it is important to remember that this process will take time and patience.
The present discussion of who lost Russia is backward. The real question is where Russia is at the moment with its effort to find itself after more than 70 years of Soviet corruption and political darkness. When looking at the present state of affairs from that point of view, Russian progress to date is more meaningful.
That is not to say that the struggle for Russia's future is over, or that all is well in Moscow. The struggle continues, and the road ahead is full of many obstacles, large and small.
But the United States has been and will continue to be partners with reformers and supporters of the reform effort, and I expect Russia would not have made as much forward progress as it has without that partnership and support.