Let the Party Without Sin Over Russia Cast the First Stone

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As the West cheered a second great victory over communism, the oligarchs got even richer and a lot more powerful — and Boris Yeltsin’s political survival became intimately linked with their fate. What the current crop of financial scandals points to is that in the '90s rush to exorcise the ghost of Stalinism, the distinctions between government, legitimate business and organized crime became dangerously blurred in Russia. "Crime, politics and business in Russia feed off each other," says Meier. "Russia’s huge criminal organizations were born, and continue to thrive, because of their access to political power."

But the die is cast. Neither mainstream Republicans nor Democrats now advocate cutting Russia off from IMF aid, although both are now calling for greater controls. But at this point IMF aid to Russia isn’t even passing through Russian hands –- it’s simply being transferred from one IMF account to another, because the international body is giving Russia only enough to service its debt to the IMF in order to prevent a default that could destabilize global financial markets.

Although nobody’s quite closing the door, the relationship with Russia is now in a holding pattern. "Whether or not the problem originated with the way privatization was handled, there’s not much that can be undone now," says TIME correspondent Massimo Calabresi. "So Washington is trying to weather the corruption storm and focus on the priorities of stopping nuclear weapons proliferation and ensuring that fringe elements don’t take power."

In other words, "reform" is on the back burner, and while Democrats and Republicans argue over who’s to blame for its failure, both are looking toward long-term crisis management rather than any dramatic policy shift. No wonder the Russian masses clamored for a last glimpse of Raisa Gorbachev. By comparison with the standard of living in today’s Russia, the death throes of communism presided over by her husband may look like a gilded age.

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