RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL TRANSITION: U.S. ASSISTANCE AND ISSUES FOR CONGRESS
CRS Report for Congress
Russia’s Economic and Political
Transition: U.S. Assistance and
Issues for Congress
Updated May 5, 1999
Specialist in Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The adoption by Russia of a democratic political system and free market economic system
is an objective of U.S. foreign policy facilitated by the foreign aid program funded under the
New Independent States (NIS) account of the foreign operations appropriations. Since
1992, an estimated $2.3 billion has been obligated to assist this transition. This report
reviews the history of the program, focusing on the more recent Partnership for Freedom and
Regional Investment Initiative. It considers several issues of possible interest to Congress,
including the impact on the aid program of the August 1998 financial crisis and of
legislative conditionality. This report will not be updated.
Russia’s Economic and Political Transition:
U.S. Assistance and Issues for Congress
The adoption by Russia of a democratic political system and free market
economic system is an objective of U.S. foreign policy facilitated by the foreign aid
program funded under the New Independent States (NIS) account of the foreign
operations appropriations. Since 1992, an estimated $2.3 billion has been obligated
to assist this transition.
The history of the aid program has been characterized by a declining amount of
resources, multiple objectives, implementation problems, and mixed results. Some
programs have had little positive impact and others have been affirmatively appraised
by many observers. Most assistance activities have exposed many Russians to
previously inaccessible U.S. ideas and information.
In 1997 and 1998, there were several important developments in Russia. The
89 regions of Russia became increasingly decentralized and adopted reforms at their
own pace. Small and micro businesses grew rapidly, and non-government
organizations also grew and began to take on greater advocacy roles. In response,
the State Department’s NIS Coordinator introduced the Partnership for Freedom
(PFF) and the Regional Investment Initiative (RII). The former stressed support for
grassroots partnerships between U.S. and Russian business and NGOs, while the
latter selected three regions for focused U.S. assistance to improve the business and
In 1999, Congress may consider several issues. First, what is the impact of the
August 1998 financial crisis on the aid program and how might the program change
to meet new demands? Second, what are the lessons of the PFF and the RII
experiences that may be continued or applied more widely in the Russia aid program?
Third, what legislative conditions on assistance might affect continuation of the
transition aid program?
The August crisis has caused the State Department to reexamine the program.
More funds are being targeted on helping non-governmental organizations survive
this difficult period. The PFF and RII were both active in Novgorod and this
experience suggests a number of lessons applicable to the whole Russia program.
These include that assistance should be designed to meet local needs and to focus on
reformers to create models of success, that aid for economic growth and civil society
complement each other, that exposing Russians to the United States is a positive
force for reform, and that change at the federal level is necessary to make reform
work at the local level. It should also be noted that some legislative conditions on
assistance — for instance that Russia should end the sale of nuclear reactor
technology to Iran — would cut or terminate the aid program in any form.
In troduction ......................................................1
Availability of Resources........................................2
Multiple Objectives and Targets..................................3
Trends in Russia’s Transition and U.S. Initiatives:
1997-1998 ................................................... 7
Trends in Russia...............................................7
Importance of the Regions...................................7
Development of Small and Micro Business......................8
Growth of NGOs..........................................8
The Partnership for Freedom (PFF)............................8
Regional Investment Initiative (RII)...........................9
Issues for Congress................................................9
What is the Impact of the August 1998 Financial Crisis and How
Might the Assistance Program Change to Meet New Demands?.....9
What Are the Lessons of the Partnership for Freedom and Regional
Designing Assistance to Meet Local Needs.....................13
Focusing Assistance on Reformers to Create Models of Success....13
Complementary Economic Growth and Democracy Building......13
Exposure to the United States as a Force for Reform.............14
Assignment of RII Coordinators to Strengthen Impact............14
Limitations of a Regional and Grassroots Focus.................15
Sustainability and Longevity of Support.......................15
What Legislative Conditions Affect Continuation of the Transition
Iran Nuclear Reactor......................................16
Religious Minorities Legislation.............................17
Customs and Taxes.......................................17
List of Tables
Table 1. NIS Account Assistance for Russia.............................2
Table 2. NIS Account Programs in Russia: FY1992-1998..................4
Russia’s Economic and Political Transition:
U.S. Assistance and Issues for Congress
The economic and political future of Russia, a priority concern of U.S.
policymakers since its emergence from the ashes of the former Soviet Union at the
end of 1991, has been placed in sharp relief as a result of the August 1998 financial
crisis currently threatening its national stability. The belief remains widespread
among experts and politicians that the adoption, in some form, by Russia of a
democratic political system and a free market economic system would be the best
possible outcome for the United States and the world community. To that end, the
United States has supported an array of programs under the New Independent States
(NIS) Account of the annual foreign operations (foreign aid) appropriations,
providing financial and technical assistance — an estimated $2.3 billion worth
obligated for Russia programs to date. The current crisis suggests, to some, that this1
work has been unsuccessful and, to others, that there is much more work to do.
From the beginning, the United States government recognized that the resources
it was willing to provide on a bilateral basis alone would be unequal to the task.
When the 1992 FREEDOM Support Act legislation, which authorizes the bilateral
aid program, was first announced, the Bush Administration presented it in the context
of a larger multilateral effort. The division of labor has remained the same since —
the United States, as with other bilaterals, provides mostly grant technical and
humanitarian assistance. Like other bilateral donors, it also issues commercial export
credits and guarantees (through the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation, and the Department of Agriculture) to serve the dual
purpose of supporting U.S. jobs and Russian economic development. The
international financial institutions, led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
provide larger-scale financial aid, to encourage significant structural and fiscal
economic policy reform. 2
In addition, a number of U.S. agencies have used their own budget resources— $3.6 billion1
worth in obligations to the end of September 1998 — to fund programs tied to more narrow
purposes. These are mostly composed of 5 programs: Department of Defense Nunn-Lugar
Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs ($1 billion); Department of Agriculture food aid
($1.3 billion); Department of Energy nuclear safety and materials protection ($484 million);
the NASA space station ($662 million); and USIA’s educational and cultural exchange
program base budget ($115 million). The latter works closely to support the democratic and
free market objectives of the NIS program and receives additional funds as well from the
Russia currently owes the IMF $18.7 billion, the World Bank $5.7 billion, and the EBRD2
$4 billion (the latter funds provided to both public and private sector).
Because the bilateral economic aid program allows the United States to
influence the course of Russia’s transition, it has been a major focus of congressional
interest. This report, based partly on extensive interviews conducted in Russia in
1998, looks at the status of the aid program and discusses issues relevant to ongoing
congressional discussions on the consequences of the financial crisis and the efficacy
of the assistance program.
Significant changes in the U.S. aid program during the past two years can best
be understood in terms of its prior evolution. Key aspects of the program’s history3
might be characterized in broad terms as follows:
Availability of Resources
Responding to arguments that the Russia program was underfunded in its first
two years, the Clinton Administration proposed a significant boost in funding for
FY1994. Competing for the same pool of funds as other NIS countries and subject
to congressional disapproval of its government’s behavior, Russia’s allocation then
declined. In FY1998, with the Administration arguing strongly for an increase,
Congress approved sufficient regional amounts to make modest Russia increases
possible. Nevertheless, since FY1996, each year Russia has received less than the
Administration requested — 53% of the FY1996 request, 55% of the FY1997
request, and 53% of the FY1998 request. In FY1999, however, 77% of the FY1999
request for Russia programs was met. The FY2000 Administration request would45
maintain the transition program at roughly current levels.
Table 1. NIS Account Assistance for Russia
(in $ millions)
FY92-93 FY94 FY95 FY96 FY97 FY98 FY99
350 1,300 341 137 95 129 172
Previous analyses of the aid program are in two CRS reports: 95-170F, The Former Soviet3
Union and U.S. Foreign Aid: Implementing the Assistance Program, 1992-1994; and 96-
Amounts appropriated for Russia for FY1999 and previous years may be eroded, however,4
if the emergency supplemental appropriations currently under consideration is signed into
law. The Senate-approved version, S. 544, cuts unobligated Russia aid by $10 million and
FY1999 NIS aid by another $2.3 million, while House-approved H.R. 1141 cuts aid to the
NIS account by $25 million.
The Russia NIS account request is for $295 million, $122 of which, however, is dedicated5
to the Expanded Threat Reduction nonproliferation security initiative.
The large FY1994 pool of funds, spent out over several years, is now depleted,
and the number of individual activities conducted has been reduced substantially.
In the past two years, USAID has phased out or closed 40 projects. As a result, many
argue, the amount of assistance provided to support transition programs in Russia
remains insufficient for a country of such signal importance to the United States.
How much is enough is a question annually faced by Members of Congress, who
must weigh competing foreign policy requirements against domestic budget
Multiple Objectives and Targets
Although there is general agreement among policymakers that the chief
overarching purposes of the NIS account program are to facilitate democracy and a
free market economy, the program has been highly atomistic, supporting numerous
objectives, from health to energy efficiency to nuclear nonproliferation. The
FREEDOM Support Act specifically authorizes activities in some 13 broad sectors,
further legislation and congressional report language has supported or earmarked
dozens of projects in diverse sectors, and both the Bush and Clinton Administrations
have introduced projects that meet short-term political ends, sometimes as
showpieces or just to “get something on the ground.”
Further, the program has sought to affect a vast nation of 148 million people, at
the federal, regional, and local levels in government, as well as grassroots non-
governmental sectors. Although budget cuts have focused the program to some
extent in recent years — with health and environment more prominent, agriculture
cut, etc. — it remains diffuse. In addition, pressures to expand programs continue
to exert themselves.
Table 2 provides an indication of the breadth of sectors covered under the NIS
account program. Most of the USAID programs listed were composed of numerous
projects implemented by hundreds of contractors and grantees. Today, the USAID
private sector project, with vastly reduced resources from a few years ago, consists
of over 30 sub-activities run by more than two dozen organizations.
The assistance program has been an experiment, with long odds and obstacles
constraining successful accomplishments. Initially, government aid implementors
had little understanding of Russia, only a few contractors had experience in the
country, and no one had a proven formula for successful transitions from
communism. Many pilot demonstrations never led to or merited follow up activities.
There were few connections between projects, and little sharing of information and
lessons learned among implementing contractors and grantees. There was
considerable squabbling among the more than 18 U.S. government agencies involved
Looking at all U.S. programs in Russia, the funding priority given democracy and free6
market reform has diminished greatly relative to security issues. In the period FY92 to
FY98, transition objectives represented 35% of all U.S. activities in Russia. In FY98, they
account for only 20% and are projected at even less in following years.
in the program. Aid was supposed to “follow reform,” but, while waiting for these
reformers and reforms to emerge, projects were funded that had inconclusive or
Table 2. NIS Account Programs in Russia: FY1992-1998
(obligations in $ millions)
— NIS Special Initiatives (Humanitarian, etc.)55.4— Energy Efficiency and Market Reform85.3
— Environmental Policy and Technology60.5— Health Care Improvement87.9
— Private Sector Initiatives544.5— Food Systems Restructuring46.1
— Democratic Reform133.5— Housing Sector Reform202.8
— Economic Restructuring and Financial Reform77.6— Eurasia Foundation21.4
— Enterprise Funds266.0— Exchanges and Training87.4
— Energy and Env. Commodity Import Program59.5— Farmer to Farmer Program16.8
U.S. Department of Commerce
— Business Information Service for NIS (BISNIS)4.2— Business Information Service in Russia1.0
— American Business Centers (ABCs)10.2— SABIT Business Intern Program11.3
— Commercial Law Development Program1.8— Business Development Committees0.7
— Consortia of American Businesses in NIS4.5
USIA Freedom Support Act Exchanges194.2
U.S. Department of Energy
— Nuclear Reactor Safety88.6— Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention30.7
U.S. Department of State
— Humanitarian Assistance (Transport Costs)57.8— INL Anti-Crime Training and Tech Asst.23.1
— INR Title VIII Research Program7.5— Science Centers28.5
U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Law Asst.1.3
U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA)42.7
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)11.9
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)15.5
U.S. Department of Agriculture Exchanges
— Cochran Fellowship Program2.4— Faculty Exchange Program0.7
— Collaborative Biotech Research Program1.0
U.S. Department of the Treasury
— G-7 Support Implementation Group2.7— Technical Advisors7.6
Congressional Research Service Parliamentary1.9
TOTAL CUMULATIVE OBLIGATIONS 2,310.5
Source: Office of NIS Coordinator, Department of State
These and many other problems associated with the early years of the program
have been addressed to varying extent by the State Department’s NIS Coordinator
and USAID, the chief U.S. government implementing agency. In particular, it is
worth noting that diverse efforts have been made, including the designation of
coordinators in several regions, to bring the various programs together for
information exchange and collaborative activity. The duplication of many different
exchange programs has been somewhat ameliorated by housing most in USIA. Inter-
agency disagreements seem to be resolved with less rancor, due, in part, to the NIS
Coordinator. The decline in funding, although too precipitous for some, may have
had the effect of weeding out unsuccessful and poorly designed programs.
Although the initial lack of experience in Russia has partly been addressed by
time, the “Russification” of the program has also aided implementation. This has
involved the widespread hiring of Russian professional staff by USAID and USAID-
funded contractors and grantees. In addition, there are increasing numbers of Russian
indigenous organizations that have the capacity to manage U.S. funded programs in
ways that meet U.S. standards of accountability and openness. For example, in 1995,
a corps of Russian professionals who worked on Urban Institute-managed housing
policy projects left to create their own Institute for Urban Economics, which is now
expected to become a prime contractor for USAID.
The multiplicity of goals, difficulties in implementing them, and shortage of
resources have affected the results of the assistance program. Amidst a scattershot
and multi-sector approach, the program’s impact was significant in some areas and
marginal in others. It was instrumental in encouraging change, but also came up
against barriers to change in Russia itself. In judging program results, many
observers caution that such programs at best can only hope to influence the course
of change that is primarily domestic-driven.
There are many examples to illustrate possible successes and failures of the
assistance program, but such characterizations are subjective and prone to critical
interpretation. For example, privatization of the state controlled economy was one
area of reportedly substantial U.S. influence. The United States provided extensive
technical advice, equipment, and other help to the Russian Privatization Center that
organized the privatization of more than 15,000 medium to large state-owned
enterprises from 1992 to 1996. However, a number of observers have criticized the7
way in which the Russian government chose to privatize, using a voucher system that
ultimately may have allowed national assets to pass into the hands of a few
ol i garches. 8
According to the GAO, $58 million was spent on these mass privatization activities. In7
addition, USAID supported a wide array of programs to reform the policy and regulatory
environment in which the private sector functions.
See for example, Janine Wedel, “The Harvard Boys do Russia: How the Best and the8
Brightest Helped Destroy the Russian Economy,” The Nation, June 1, 1998, and
Government Accounting Office, Foreign Assistance: Harvard Institute for International
Development’s Work in Russia and Ukraine, November 1996, NSIAD-97-27. For a contrary
view, see Daniel Kaufman and Paul Siegelbaum, Privatization and Corruption in Transition
Economies, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1997.
The U.S.-Russia Investment Fund (TUSRIF), one of many enterprise funds set-
up in central Europe and the former Soviet Union since 1990, is another example of
a project suggesting both positive and negative features. Like the other funds,
TUSRIF, a private sector entity whose operational and working capital comes from
the U.S. government, provides loans, equity capital, and technical assistance to
businesses of all sizes. It emerged in 1995 from the ruins of two earlier regional
Russia enterprise funds that had been plagued by management difficulties and poor
investments. TUSRIF, itself, has had its own management problems and high
operational costs. It was slow in fulfilling its original primary mission of making
equity investments — a mission, some argued, made irrelevant because of the more
than 60 private sector equity funds in Russia with which it competed prior to the
August 1998 financial crisis. In addition, the U.S. government originally promised
TUSRIF $440 million, a high proportion of the total aid program, preventing other,
perhaps more worthy, programs from receiving funds. On the positive side, however,
TUSRIF has, with the encouragement of USAID, shifted its emphasis from making
equity investments to lending capital to small businesses and helping pioneer home
mortgage and auto lending in Russia.
A more affirmatively appraised program is the Eurasia Foundation which helps
grassroots organizations and individuals build democratic and free market
institutions. The Foundation, whose Russia activities received $13.5 million in
FY1997, conducts a competitive small grants program in which an average of
$17,000 is provided to help recipients conduct specific activities. These activities
encompass the purchase of textbooks by an education business training institute, the
conduct of seminars on legal issues for newspaper representatives, a voter education
project, support for a small business newspaper to expand its coverage to include
business legislation, and help to set up a website on Russian agriculture that includes
current crop prices for the benefit of local farmers. In addition, several other
programs, funded separately, target a specific geographic region and/or sector —
crime and corruption, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the Novgorod
region, and small agriculture loans in the Saratov region. From its Washington
office, Eurasia runs a partnership program through which U.S. institutions provide
expertise. Harvard University, for example, helped the Moscow City Administration
develop mortgage law and procedures. Women, Law, and Development
International, a Washington-based NGO, conducted a year long training program for
Russian lawyers who defend women’s legal rights.
In addition to facilitating specific projects, one of the Foundation’s main aims
is to build local institutions. Through the grantmaking process, it works to show
organizations how to achieve their goals, meet financial reporting requirements, and
assess their own progress. Even for those who don’t receive grants, efforts are made
to explain how they could improve their chances of receiving future awards. As a
result, the Foundation, almost entirely staffed by Russians, is very much in touch
with grassroots activities throughout the country. Its support of innovative activities
generates much goodwill toward the United States. Further, it provides grants too
small for USAID to manage cost effectively itself, and it leverages $2 from private
donors and grant recipients for every $1 from USAID.
A review of the entire assistance program would show numerous discrete
examples of assistance, like those of the Eurasia Foundation, that many would argue
help to generate private sector activity and facilitate the growth of civil society.
These include an association of women providing business training and support in
Staraye Russia, a business “incubator” in St. Petersburg where clients can learn the
ropes of fashion design, find start-up work space, and lease necessary equipment,9
and, a loan to help start up one of the country’s first car wash businesses in Moscow.
While these activities may not have an impact wider than a few dozen families, they
may be building blocks of something much larger.
Some question the value of these activities in meeting U.S. foreign policy goals.
They argue that only activities that help change government policies or introduce
new institutions have a widespread systemic effect. Others, however, suggest that
even small activities have the potential to be disseminated throughout the country if
they are successful, and, as one USAID official has suggested, the cumulative impact
of facilitating the growth of hundreds of businesses and NGOs may be to create
demand for change at the grassroots level that cannot be ignored by the top.
At the very least, it can be said that most assistance activities — even the
failures — provided exposure to new ways of thinking for people long isolated from
information and ideas behind the Iron Curtain. They have exposed government
decision makers to how things are done throughout the advanced industrial countries
in energy, health, and economic policy, farmers to coops and credit unions, and
bankers to consumer lending practices. They have also connected hundreds of NGOs
to each other through the internet and seminars, trained hundreds of print and
television journalists, and introduced thousands of young people to free market
concepts through Junior Achievement.
Trends in Russia’s Transition and U.S. Initiatives:
Russia’s economic, political, and social life has experienced dramatic change
since the country’s rebirth six years ago. While the U.S. aid program has sought to
influence the course of these developments, several recent important trends in Russia
have stimulated significant changes in the content of U.S. assistance.
Trends in Russia
Importance of the Regions. There may be a tendency to see Russia as a
monolith, but it is a set of 89 regional governments. Like U.S. states, each region is
quite different from the next — some with great natural resources, human resources,
or prime geographical locations. Regions have become increasingly decentralized
both as an intentional result of the national reform process, and, unintentionally,
where the central government has been stymied by lack of reform. Regional
governments are adopting free market and democratic reforms at a varying pace.
Regions have been given new taxation powers, and some have been allowed to
These projects were implemented by IREX, the Center for Citizens’ Initiatives, and the9
U.S.-Russia Enterprise Fund, respectively.
experiment with land sales that are still restricted under federal legislation. These
trends have all accelerated after the August 1998 crisis. Price regulation has been
introduced in 87 of the 89 regions, some regions refuse to contribute taxes to the
federal budget, and some have suspended federal law.
Development of Small and Micro Business. The development of small and
micro business is important to Russia’s long-term economic growth as well as for the
emergence of a politically stabilizing middle class. Both grew exponentially after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. No one can say how many microenterprises exist, but
small business is estimated to have leveled off at about one million in recent years
— compared to 23 million in the United States. While there is considerable visual
and anecdotal evidence of new small businesses — fashion design, car washes,
bakeries, fast food restaurants — many barriers have prevented business from
reaching its full potential. These include onerous taxes, payoffs of mafia for
protection, license requirements (it is said that Russians need more than 50
signatures to open a business), lack of access to credit, lack of accounting and other
business skills, and lack of support from government.
Growth of NGOs. Since 1991, there has been an explosion in the numbers of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to more than 150,000 legally registered, an
estimated 65,000 of which are civic-oriented. They represent mostly the interests of
business, veterans, environmentalists, the disabled, and women. Most are quite weak
and poorly organized, with small memberships and little financing. A number,
however, are growing stronger, taking on advocacy roles, adopting fundraising
techniques, and dealing directly with government. While most local governments
view them with suspicion, some, such as Petersburg and Novgorod, are bringing
them into the process of governance by listening to their concerns prior to making
law. Novgorod has begun to open the provision of its social services to NGO
Over the years, the U.S. aid program has contributed to the development of
regional and local government, small and micro business, and NGOs. While the
highest proportion of aid spending went to policy reform in the central government
in the early years, funds have shifted increasingly away from Moscow. By FY1998,
more than 72% of USAID funds went to areas outside Moscow. Efforts were made
to introduce land reform, health care, and energy efficiency to local and regional
officials. Establishment of business training schools, credit windows, and consulting
services sought to tackle some of the leading obstacles to small and micro business
growth. Institutional development of environmental and other advocacy NGOs and
the linking of Russia and American NGOs characterized efforts in support of civil
In 1997, the State Department and USAID adopted two initiatives that sought
to increase the flow of assistance to the regions and to grassroots business and NGOs.
Both approaches characterize the current assistance program in Russia.
The Partnership for Freedom (PFF). The Administration proposed the
Partnership for Freedom in its FY1998 NIS account budget request to Congress.
With respect to the Russia program, the PFF sought to reverse the decline in
assistance levels, make the program a longer-term endeavor, and move the program
from one focusing on technical assistance for central government to one stressing
people-to-people private sector business and grassroots civil society development.
Specifically, the PFF emphasizes economic growth activities such as loan programs,
business training, investment funds, business-oriented exchanges, and anti-crime
activities. It also stresses linkages to support civil society, including support for
NGOs, professional exchanges, and cooperative linkages between U.S. and Russian
community organizations such as hospital partnerships and charitable organizations.
The proportion of USAID assistance obligations going to support the civil and
economic private sector rose from 56% of the program total in FY1997 to 92% in
FY1998, from $84 million to $126 million.
Regional Investment Initiative (RII). Announced in February 1997 by the
Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, the Regional Investment Initiative is more
narrowly focused than the PFF. Under the RII, three regions — Novgorod, Samara,
and the Far East — were selected to receive a special infusion of funds for programs
designed to improve their private investment climate.
The Initiative was designed to address individually the concerns of target
regions, while emphasizing programs in which the United States has a “comparative
advantage.” The Novgorod RII, for example, includes support for the development
of land registration, availability of credit for small and microbusiness, consulting
services for small business, and the establishment of an agency to promote Novgorod
to foreign investors. The Russian Far East RII provides, among other things, an
investment and finance advisor to Khabarovsk, training to government financial
managers, and grants to help establish private business associations and to assist
environmentally focused economic projects. In Samara, the RII includes provision
of seed grants and business training to help emerging high technology enterprises,
training to assist business in adopting International Accounting Standards, and
training for lawyers and the local marshals’s service on enforcement of contract law
The State Department hired a coordinator for each region to act as an interface
between local and regional governments and the U.S. programs. In FY1998, $17
million was set aside specifically to finance RII activities. The current three RIIs are
expected to be expanded to four in the near future, and the NIS Coordinator envisions
that each initiative is likely to last two to three years, with more phased in as others
Issues for Congress
What is the Impact of the August 1998 Financial Crisis and How
Might the Assistance Program Change to Meet New Demands?
Until the financial crisis of August 1998, there appeared in Russia to be a
semblance of economic stability and movement toward greater reform. After the
crisis, there is considerable uncertainty in the economic as well as political
environment. To many observers, the Primakov government’s proposed plan of
action to overcome the crisis appears inadequate.
The first U.S. response to the crisis is described by officials as a humanitarian
one — the offer of $885 million in food grants and loans. This assistance is coming
from the Department of Agriculture program budget, not the NIS account, and is
partly motivated by U.S. domestic farm price stabilization objectives. To the extent
that it goes directly to vulnerable groups within Russia, it may do some good.
However, some believe that it may cause harm to transition objectives if sale of food
products provides profits to corrupt government officials or prevents private farmers
from getting a good price for their domestic goods. U.S. agriculture officials insist
that the program will be carefully monitored to avoid corruption or misuse of food
aid. The first food shipments arrived in mid-March 1999.
The NIS assistance program, which is designed to deal with specific identifiable
problems in the transition process, may have to change its strategy to deal with new
problems emerging from the crisis. In an October 2 speech, Secretary of State
Albright said that the United States was reexamining the program and “retargeting
money where it can be used effectively to support economic and democratic
The crisis has seriously affected the efficacy of some existing programs and
damaged U.S. efforts to promote change in certain spheres of activity. For instance,
in the current environment, it appears unlikely that the Russian federal government
is serious about the kinds of policy reform currently promoted by the aid program or
that efforts to attract foreign investors under the RII are likely to be productive. As
a result, the NIS Coordinator is planning on reducing further policy reform assistance
on tax reform and securities markets, and is downplaying the investment aspect of
the Regional Investment Initiative.
The crisis has had other immediate impacts. The freezing of bank funds
prevented NGOs and independent media from drawing on accounts established with
donor funds, reportedly forcing some reductions in NGO staff and programs.
Advertising revenue for independent TV, radio, and newspapers, long targets of U.S.
support, has also declined — by as much as 80 percent, according to one source. In
response, USAID grantees have sought new banking arrangements for supplying
funds to NGOs. The National Press Institute and Internews, which implement the
independent media projects, are focusing on helping the media survive the crisis by
directing training at cutting budgets and maintaining services in this difficult
economic environment. A new program is being designed by USAID that will funnel
funds to the best stations in order to help them survive in the short term. On January
25, 1999 Secretary of State Albright announced a $10 million increase in assistance
to Russia’s independent media, the U.S. contribution to an international effort
implemented by the Soros Open Society Institute.11
Speech to U.S.-Russia Business Council, Chicago, Illinois.10
Washington Post, January 26, 1999, p. 13.11
Reportedly, some sectors and programs have not been affected as much as might
be expected. The hardest hit banks were those in Moscow. Medium-sized banks in
the regions are still functioning and continue to make loans using U.S. government
funds. Mortgage lending at the regional level continues to be developed and demand
for training in this activity has reportedly gone up dramatically since August 1998.
Whether small and micro businesses remain viable and can repay their loans in a
difficult economic environment remains to be seen, but Russians have often
demonstrated their ability to adapt to such situations and an expanded market for
locally produced goods might stimulate new business growth. Demand for such
loans reportedly remains strong and USAID intends to seek alternatives to
commercial banks for microlending. Although the equity investment efforts of
TUSRIF may be restricted now by lessened opportunities of finding solid
investments, some argue that these efforts may be eased by the absence of
competition from U.S. and other foreign private sector funds that have departed the
As a result of the crisis, a number of alterations to the existing aid program
appear likely. As noted, the NIS Coordinator expects to accelerate the decline of
assistance to the federal government while accelerating increases in the proportion
of aid going to the regions. However, consideration is being given by State and
USAID to provide technical assistance in the area of bank restructuring and
regulation — the sector that directly triggered the crisis and may become a focus of
serious attention by the Russian government. Support is also being given to
alternative Russian “think tanks” that can in the long run provide economic analysis
to the government. More assistance will be given in the form of exchanges — both
academic and professional — independent media, bringing the internet to libraries,
civil society activities like those of Eurasia Foundation, and small business credit and
Under consideration are responses to the humanitarian and social impact of the
economic crisis, including programs targeting tuberculosis, assistance in
pharmaceutical supplies, and orphans. USAID is also planning on providing
technical assistance to local governments to formulate systems that will help them
direct their limited resources — provision of basic services such as heating, transport,
and school supplies — to the neediest families, following a model of “means testing”
developed earlier that has helped municipalities determine who receives housing
These changes, most of which were presaged by the PFF in 1997, suggest the
Administration is taking a longer term view of the Russian transition and U.S.
objectives. The current crisis is viewed by most in the U.S. government as a step
backward in a long process of bringing about a transition to a free market economy.
But many observers paint a dire picture of events in Russia, making the U.S. aid
program, in approach and magnitude, appear a feeble response.
What Are the Lessons of the Partnership for Freedom and Regional
The aid strategies embodied by the Partnership for Freedom and the Regional
Investment Initiative have been employed for more than a year, and it may now be
possible for Congress to address their usefulness in meeting U.S. transition objectives
in Russia. Already, the NIS Coordinator has begun to reevaluate and refine these
approaches in light of current experience.
The PFF, the broader of the two initiatives, now represents the dominant
approach to U.S. assistance in Russia. It is a response to the failure of the Russian
central government to act on reforms, and to trends in Congress limiting amounts of
aid and aid to the government specifically. By emphasizing grassroots and people-to-
people assistance, it may have a modest impact on key objectives.
If one purpose of the PFF is to establish long-term relationships between the
people of the United States and Russia, then these are the types of programs most
likely to accomplish that end. They create concrete linkages and are more visible to
Russian and American publics than policy reform efforts. They are often less
expensive than programs requiring provision of expert technical advisers from the
banking, tax, and investment sectors. Under many of these programs, a little seed
money is provided to local organizations, volunteer experts give business advice, and
relationships are created that may later be extended at no government cost.
The drawback of PFF activities is their likely small short-run systemic impact.
Were it possible, however, to blanket the country with these activities, their effect
might be more dramatic. A number of experts report that the demand in Russia for
such grassroots activities far outweighs the ability of the current aid program to fund
The RII, on the other hand, significantly increases its potential impact by
focusing numerous activities on single regions. It has risked faltering following the
financial crisis, because its original investment-focus objective is too dependent on
circumstances outside the control of the United States and, perhaps more than the
PFF, depends on the success of policy reforms at the national level. In recent
months, the NIS Coordinator appears to have favored broadening the RII’s narrow
focus to include civil society activities, while emphasizing its regional aspect and
continuing efforts to create an environment favorable at least to indigenous business.
Although its middle “I” may, in effect, have been removed, the term “RII” apparently
is still operative.
Strong evidence of the potential effectiveness of the PFF and RII approaches can
be found in Novgorod, which served both as a PFF “pilot” and the first of the three
RIIs. Novgorod is considered by many observers to be a success story. It has a pro-
reform reputation as a place that has used U.S. assistance well. Political and12
See Blair A. Ruble and Nancy Popson, “The Westernization of a Russian Province: the12
Case of Novgorod”, in Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, p. 433-446, Vol. 39, No. 8,
economic conditions throughout the country and in each RII region are quite
different, but, as implemented to date, a number of lessons can be learned from the
Novgorod experience that might be applied throughout the assistance program in
Designing Assistance to Meet Local Needs. Too often assistance programs
have been adopted with a “cookie cutter” approach — if it worked in Poland, it must
work in Russia. The RII and pilot PFF models in Novgorod, by contrast, were
characterized by flexibility and designed to meet local needs. In Novgorod and other
RIIs, local government officials were consulted at the beginning, asked what their
needs were, and provided services that met both their and U.S. interests. The positive
thing about the RII is that it is flexible, works closely with local government, and
uses a coordinator to respond to needs as they change. Further, most Novgorod
officials and private citizens who directly benefitted from U.S. programs repeatedly
expressed satisfaction that the U.S. programs, particularly the exchanges, were well-
tailored to meet their specific needs.
Focusing Assistance on Reformers to Create Models of Success. A U.S.
strategy, implemented unevenly since the beginning of the aid program, has been that
assistance focused on reformers would create “models of success” that would then
be replicated elsewhere. This strategy has worked in Novgorod, where reformers,
predating the PFF and RII, emerged in both the city and oblast governments. Their
agenda was strengthened by U.S. programs, and the programs themselves were made
more effective by the support they received from the local governments. The success
of Novgorod as a center of change and investment —in 1997, it was ranked the top
region for capital investment per capita — has not gone unnoticed in Russia.
Officials of regional governments throughout the country come to learn from the
Novgorod experience, thereby multiplying the impact of U.S. assistance efforts and
its transition objectives.13
Reformist attitudes are not the sole criterion for choosing an RII, however. The
Far East did not have a reputation for either economic or democratic reform; Samara
is economically reformist, but reportedly has shown signs of resistance to civil
society. Their selection was based partly on other criteria — potential investment
interest or presence of foreign, including U.S., business, and U.S. political interests.
Both locales were more likely objects of U.S. foreign investment than Novgorod,
with considerable industry in Samara and natural resources in the Far East. The Far
East was also favored by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission and is a focus of
congressional interest. Assistance has a positive role to play in places that are not
reform-oriented — both Samara and the Far East programs include efforts to promote
public-private dialogue among government, business, and NGOs. But the Novgorod
experience suggests that the program should be ready to jump in wherever promising
signs of reform and local government support for U.S. objectives are identified.
Complementary Economic Growth and Democracy Building. The RII was
originally intended to focus entirely on growth and investment, but the case of
Novgorod, which, by circumstance, also included PFF activities, provides evidence
“The Westernization of a Russian Province: The Case of Novgorod”, p.438.13
of the efficacy of combining civil society, democracy, and related programs with the
more intensive business focus. For one, listening to the people has not been the
practice of government in the Soviet Union or its successors. Some would argue that
governments open to public views and accepting the advocacy role of NGOs may
also be inclined to listen and respond to business associations and business people.
In Novgorod, officials have introduced twice monthly public discussions led by an
NGO representative. Secondly, Novgorod business officials are not working in
isolation from their colleagues in education and other non-business fields — the
synergy of one infects the other. Finally, a wealth of U.S.-sponsored activities may
enhance overall U.S. influence, especially in the minds of local government officials.
It may be of some concern to U.S. officials that both Samara and the Far East
have been reportedly less open to the role of NGOs and programs supportive of civil
society than Novgorod. But as the realization has grown that cooperative and
democracy building activities help establish a positive environment for reform, the
State Department Coordinator’s office has noted that other RIIs may broaden their
Exposure to the United States as a Force for Reform. Through partnerships
linking U.S. organizations with local ones, and exchanges that bring Russians to the
United States, the PFF and RII emphasize the positive impact of exposure to new
ideas. Novgorod local government officials returned from study trips to San Diego,
California, and Hartford, Connecticut, enthused with new ideas about how
government can facilitate development of small business and improve city
management. An educational exchange between officials to Boston has generated
ideas and goodwill that may spill over into other Novgorod government programs.
Numerous small business owners, brought to the United States on USIA Business for
Russia programs, have characterized the exchange as “a life changing experience,”
which, in addition to practical knowledge of business, taught them that “through hard
work they could change their lives.” Although training and advice provided within
Russia may be more cost effective and often more appropriate, well-prepared and
tailored opportunities for Russians to travel to the United States may be powerful
ways to convey the message of reform.
Assignment of RII Coordinators to Strengthen Impact. Although
responsible for implementing an assistance “strategy,” the NIS Coordinator has had
a limited presence on the ground. In 1994, an assistant to the Ambassador was
designated to report to the NIS Coordinator on all U.S. agency activities. In the RIIs,
however, the State Department has created a more direct presence, appointing non-
career State Department-contracted coordinators to represent the NIS Coordinator to
the regional and city governments and U.S. agencies, and to convey the views of the
local governments to the NIS Coordinator.
While coordinators have little direct authority over implementing agencies and
their contractors, overall they appear to be performing a vital service in facilitating
the program. In Novgorod, the coordinator was a person to whom both government
and private sector turned for help. Through the intercession or advice of the
coordinator, existing programs were utilized to meet needs, or where there was
potential funding, new programs were suggested to State, USAID, or others.
Candidates for exchanges were also recommended. The coordinator helped connect
U.S. businessmen to appropriate local government officials. The RII coordinator’s
office enhanced the image of the U.S. program because it gave Russians a sense of
the multiplicity and size of the program, previously somewhat invisible because of
its disparate nature.
The NIS Coordinator currently anticipates that regional coordinators, at the
beginning American citizens, will eventually be replaced with Russians. This has
already occurred in Novgorod. One question that arises is whether the much higher
cost of American personnel is not worth the benefits that might accrue from having
an American represent the State Department to regional governments.
Limitations of a Regional and Grassroots Focus. Ultimately, the purpose of
the RII and PFF approaches is to meet objectives of the FREEDOM Support Act by
assisting the transition of Russia to a free market economy and democratic system.
Where change has been slow from above, the aid program may have been more
effective at helping to induce change from below. But there are limits to both
regional autonomy and the impact of small-scale grassroots activities. As the August
1998 financial crisis has amply demonstrated, both are deeply affected by a political
and economic environment determined at the national level. Until policy is changed
at the top, long term economic growth and civil society will not meet their full
One example of this is in Novgorod where officials have used U.S. support to
prepare themselves for the benefits of reform at the federal level. A geographical
mapping system assisted by the University of Massachusetts, for example, is readying
them to take advantage of any federal land law. But local officials point out that they
need, at a minimum, the right from the federal level to sell land, a stock market law,
and mortgage financing before real changes can take place at the local level.
Sustainability and Longevity of Support. Two recurring questions for
observers of the Russia program and for which the RII and PFF provide no clear
answer are the extent to which programs are created that will remain active and
financially self-sustaining after U.S. assistance ends, and the degree to which the
United States is willing to stick with programs and see them through to some
productive closure. Whether because of budget cuts or a change in contractor or
strategy, the United States often is involved in funding a particular organization or
partnership for only one to two years. This may be insufficient time for new NGOs
and business organizations to make their mark or to gain sufficient paying customers
or private sector support to ensure financial self-sufficiency, if that is even a realistic
possibility in the current economic environment.
Although USAID has put increasing emphasis on sustainability of project
activities, they recognize that the issue is complex and there is no agreement on how
to ensure sustainability. Sustainable or not, a lack of U.S. funding works to cut
programs that, in the uncertain and novel environment of transition countries, might
require more nurturing to succeed. Some USAID efforts do address these concerns.
As noted earlier, additional funds are being provided to independent media
organizations to help them over the financial crisis. Efforts have been made to
“Russify” think-tank and business support organizations that can carry on USAID
types of assistance. Although the RII in Novgorod is winding down, some follow-on
activities are being considered that may extend U.S. involvement in the region. But
it may be useful for U.S. aid implementors to assess each and every grantee and aid
beneficiary with a view to ensuring that those which are making positive
contributions to the Russia transition are not neglected.
What Legislative Conditions Affect Continuation of the Transition
Congress influences policy directions of aid recipient countries through
legislative and report language. The FREEDOM Support Act, for example, provides
aid to entice behavior in various sectors, lays out broad economic and political
criteria on which to judge how much aid should be provided, and specifies conditions
for removal of aid if certain behaviors are pursued.
Use of aid as a carrot to bring about a specific result has been highly successful
on occasion. Assistance used to construct housing for Russian officers has been
credited with encouraging the Russian military to withdraw from the Baltic countries
sooner rather than later.
Use of aid as a stick, however, is more complicated and more controversial. It
has been criticized by some analysts and the Administration as inappropriate. First,
they argue that the level of aid being provided is insufficient to provoke a change in
policy — U.S. assistance is not a cash gift to the government of Russia, but arrives
largely in the form of technical expertise and training, mostly for the private sector.
And, second, they argue that the aid program benefits the United States by moving
U.S. objectives forward, notably the manifest U.S. interest in having Russia make the
transition to free market and democratic systems.
Nevertheless, Congress has sometimes given precedence to seeking a specific
change in Russia’s behavior as a price for U.S. aid rather than to the support of broad
transition efforts. Under the FY1999 foreign operations appropriations, Russia is
subject to three specific conditions that carry with them the threat of aid sanctions
with far-reaching consequences for U.S. economic and political transition objectives.
Iran Nuclear Reactor. Each year since FY1996, Congress has threatened to
end or limit assistance if the government of Russia continues to transfer nuclear14
reactor or related technology to Iran. In 1998, an FY1997 provision triggered a cut-
off of $3 million in FY1997-appropriated aid to Russia. Under FY1998 legislation,
half of all aid allocated specifically for the government of Russia had to be cut. In
effect, what this meant was that of a total $48 million, $24 million was taken from
programs aimed at the government and transferred to other, private sector, activities
in Russia and to other countries. The FY1999 provision also withholds half of all
FY1999-appropriated aid to the government of Russia unless the President
determines that providing such aid is in the U.S. national interest and that Russia is
taking steps to curtail the transfer of nuclear technology.
For details on U.S. concerns and evidence to support them, see CRS Report 98-299,14
Russian Missile Technology and Nuclear Reactor Transfers to Iran.
FY1998 cuts to the central government affected technical advice on how to
reform the central bank, support for tax reform, and other economic policy reforms
considered essential for meeting IMF loan requirements. Health reform, judicial
reform and crime and corruption assistance were also cut. Efforts to prevent
weapons-related scientists from seeking alternative employment in places like Iran
and nuclear safety programs lost funding. Also affected were USIA exchanges to the
United States targeting political leaders.
The impact of this restriction on U.S. transition assistance objectives was
intensified when State Department lawyers defined the term “government of Russia”
as including regional and local governments as well as the central government. Many
believed it was unlikely that Members originally intended the language to affect
regional and local governments, which have no control over the Iran sale and, in
some cases, have been a more effective force for reform than the central government.
As a result of the expanded definition, at least $8 million intended for regional and
local governments was counted, meaning that an additional $4 million of cuts was
needed. The cuts did not have to come from all programs equally, so the impact on
local government was softened somewhat, but at least 40% of such programs were
cut. Nevertheless, the cuts likely have blunted RII efforts and exchange, policy
reform, training assistance, and related programs throughout Russia that target15
municipal, local, and regional government.
For FY1999, Congress, well aware of the broadened definition of “government,”
approved identical language as the previous year. However, in report language,
conferees excluded U.S.-Russia partnerships between hospitals, universities, and
environmental institutions. Regional and local governments would continue to be
Religious Minorities Legislation. Since FY1998, appropriations legislation
has conditioned aid on whether the government of the Russian Federation
implements legislation that would discriminate against religious groups. A law that
might do this was approved in 1997, but, on May 26, 1998, the President determined
that Russia had not yet implemented it in a discriminatory fashion. Although the Iran
condition cuts FY1999 aid to government by half, the religion condition, again
adopted in the FY1999 act, would cut all FY1999-appropriated aid to the central
government of Russia. On April 15, 1999, Secretary Albright issued a determination
that the Russian Federation had not implemented any law that would discriminate
against religious groups in violation of international human rights agreements,
thereby allowing FY1999 aid to continue.
Customs and Taxes. A recurrent problem since the beginning of the aid
program has been the treatment of U.S.-funded organizations and equipment for tax
and customs purposes by Russian officials. While an early agreement was reached
between the Russian and U.S. governments which the United States believes to be
Available USAID data suggest a dramatic decline in assistance to the Russian15
government, from 44% of most USAID FY1997 program obligations to 9% of FY1998
totals. Despite the RII effort, funding for regional governments fell from 26% to 4% of the
in force, it was never approved by the Duma and was never fully respected by the
Russian government. An interim agreement approved several years ago has been
subject to arbitrary treatment by customs and tax officials. NGOs and contractors,
for example, have been charged customs duties for aid-funded equipment and their
employees taxed. The Department of Energy’s nuclear safety program was
threatened with severe impairment when vital time sensitive equipment was held up
at the border, and was only released with the Ambassador’s intervention.
In response to these long-standing issues, Congress approved language in the
FY1999 omnibus appropriations bill that eliminates all assistance to the government
of the Russian Federation — not local or regional government — if, by April 21,
1999, agreement was not reached that ensures FY1999 funds will be excluded from
customs duties or that legislation was not enacted and in force that exempts
assistance from duties. The President, however, could waive this provision if he
found that significant progress had been made toward resolving the customs issue.
On April 15, Secretary Albright issued a determination that significant progress has
been made on reaching an agreement on this issue, thereby allowing aid to continue.
Negotiations on a new draft agreement that would clearly exempt almost all U.S.
assistance from customs and taxes (the exceptions were certain luxury goods) were
completed on March 29, 1999, and await final Russian government signature.
Although Congress has not adopted sanctions legislation with reference to the
similar bureaucratic problem of visas, in its FY1999 bill report the Senate Foreign
Operations subcommittee took note of a situation that has seriously affected Peace
Corps operations in Russia and could raise the issue in legislation in 1999.
Beginning in 1997, it became impossible for volunteers to renew their visas annually.
Instead, visas had to be renewed every three months, requiring travel over
considerable distances and wasting volunteer time. As a result, the June 1998 class
of 44 volunteers was cancelled. Following intervention by the U.S. embassy, the
Russian government has told the State Department that they would make provisions
to insure the volunteers got visas, but the real test of this assertion will not occur until
July and August 1999 when two new classes of volunteers are scheduled to arrive.