US warns Yeltsin: Tackle corruption or no more cash

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The Independent Online
FACING A torrent of criticism over Moscow's alleged diversion of Western aid, the US administration yesterday called on Russia to crack down on corruption or face the consequences. "President Yeltsin's government needs - at last - to make fighting corruption a priority," the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, told diplomats and foreign policy experts in Washington. "We have made it clear that we will not support further multilateral assistance to Russia unless fully adequate safeguards are in place."

Ms Albright was speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank known for its Russia research programmes, in an address clearly designed to stem mounting condemnation of the Clinton administration for being "soft" on Russia.

While Ms Albright would not comment on the specific accusations - that billions of dollars in International Monetary Fund loans were spirited out of Russia by corrupt officials and their allies, citing the investigations in progress - she said that the Russian government's response to corruption "has not been adequate" and "the Russian legal system remains no match for well-connected criminals".

Ms Albright also responded to critics in Congress and media pundits who have used the allegations to launch an inquest into "who lost Russia?" "The suggestion that Russia is ours to lose is arrogant; the suggestion that Russia is lost is simply wrong."

She also went out of her way to protect Vice-President Al Gore, whose chairmanship of the joint US-Russia commission has exposed him to criticism that could threaten his quest for the presidency.