US aid fails to impress: Russians decry 'meanness' of package

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The Independent Online
IF BILL CLINTON thought Russians might respond with a simple 'thank you' to his weekend offer of dollars 1.6bn ( pounds 1bn) in aid and credits, he should have known better.

Yesterday a resentful Russian press was torn between decrying the humiliation of a former superpower reduced to the role of Third World supplicant and complaining about the meanness of the US package.

True, the newspapers concerned were conservative and hostile to President Boris Yeltsin, who expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Vancouver summit. But the commentators captured a mood among many ordinary Russians who, in the acute pain of their sudden poverty and loss of status, lash out at the mostly well- meaning foreigners who are trying to help them.

The hardline newspaper that still calls itself Sovietskaya Rossiya (Soviet Russia) over a year after the demise of the Soviet Union was ungracious. It described Mr Yeltsin as a 'failed Napoleon' and quoted the Vice- President, Alexander Rutskoi's description of aid as 'cheese in a mousetrap'. Only, it said, the summit showed it was more a case of patient little Russian mice being satisfied with talk of cheese in a mousetrap. In the run-up to Russia's constitutional referendum on 25 April there would be more loud promises from the West, it sneered.

The daily Pravda, once the organ of the Communist Party but now independent and conservative, more accurately captured the wounded confusion of Russians whose very identity is in crisis. 'The Vancouver summit was really historic: it officially fixed the inequality of Russia and the US. We go round the world with outstretched palms and the West hands out a little of its bounty,' it lamented.

Some ordinary Russians were pleased by President Clinton's show of support for their vulnerable democracy. 'It's not the amount, it's the solidarity that counts,' said Gennady, who runs a little street kiosk in downtown Moscow. But others were bitter. 'You know, it really would be better if you nice foreigners gave your money to Africa,' said Marina, a cook. 'Or at least if you are going to make us big promises, then keep them.'

Part of the problem is that the West has not delivered all the aid it has promised in the past. For example, the International Monetary Fund offered a dollars 24bn- rescue package months ago but not all the money arrived. Even that which did was mostly in the form of credits to buy Western imports, which was hardly a generous gift. Similarly with the Clinton package, some money is in the form of humanitarian grants but the rest is in credits to buy, among other commodities, US grain.

MOSCOW - The rouble fell to a new record low yesterday, trading at 712 roubles to the dollar on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange, AP reports.

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