Let the Party Without Sin Over Russia Cast the First Stone

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In death, Raisa Gorbachev finally won the love and admiration of ordinary Russians that always eluded her as first lady of the Soviet Union. Thousands sent letters of support during her final days and gathered hoping for a glimpse of her private funeral on Thursday. And yet, despite the conventional wisdom that Mrs. Gorbachev, like her husband, was loved abroad but reviled at home, the international guest list for her final farewell was rather sparse. Margaret Thatcher was there, and so was former German chancellor Helmut Kohl. But notably absent –- to the dismay of the Russian press — were Vice President Gore and former President Bush. "The Russians believe both should have been there," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "But election season isn’t a good time for either man to be in Moscow."

Russia has become a major embarrassment for the United States. And now it is shaping up to be the foreign policy centerpiece of the 2000 election, with much partisan pugilism over the well-worn question of just who "lost" the erstwhile "Evil Empire." The question, of course, is misleading, tailored to domestic political tub-thumping rather than a serious exploration of U.S. policy failure in Russia. It allows Republicans to sanctimoniously blame the Clinton administration — particularly its Russia point man, Vice President Gore — for turning a blind eye to Moscow’s corruption while at the same time pouring billions of taxpayers’ dollars into a plainly corrupt regime. Of course, the Republicans forget to mention that the Clinton administration’s Russia policy was a continuation of the one adopted by President Bush. (After all, Bush Sr.’s Russia maven, Condi Rice, is the foreign policy adviser to candidate George W.) Nor does the GOP offer any substantially different policy; they simply claim they would have managed things differently.

While the Republicans may make partisan hay out of the "Who lost Russia?" formulation, it’s mostly a soft ball for the Democrats: Russia was never ours to lose, they counter indignantly. Well, yes, it was never a colonial possession. But that doesn’t account for the squandering of every last cent of the considerable goodwill toward the West that existed in Russia at the end of the Cold War, nor for the role played by an economic reform program championed by Washington in reducing an ailing industrial giant into a beggar nation whose annual national budget today is smaller than New York City’s.

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