The Price of Empire

The Soviet Union's extension of a new $3.8 billion trade credit to Poland last week illustrated a truth that is centuries old: empires, ultimately, are expensive. Since mid-1980, when Polish workers staged the strikes that led to the creation of Solidarity, the Kremlin has pumped $4 billion into its neighbor, some of it in rubles that can be used only to settle bills within the Soviet-bloc Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), some of it in hard currencies that can buy goods or pay debts in the West. But the Soviet Union also supplies...

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