$100 billion. $150 billion.
It's a lot of money either way--and in any language. Which may be the reason that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's call for massive Western aid to sustain perestroika inspired widespread media comment, including some from newspapers in countries not directly involved.
"The plight of the Soviet Union is now so acute that the West may be forced by self-interest to come to its rescue before hardship turns into turmoil and Europe witnesses yet another mass exodus. Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev has skillfully manipulated Western concern for his predicament to gain an invitation from Mr. John Major (the British prime minister) to the Group of Seven conference next month, where he will plead for loans and donations worth $30 billion a year and $100 billion over a period--a sum dwarfing any granted to one country since the Marshall Plan in 1949.
"The invitation may be a payoff for his having agreed to a conventional arms reduction treaty last week, but it is also a recognition that his economic reforms have finally reached break point. There has never been any doubt that the West has a vital stake in the peaceful transformation of the Soviet Union. It is, after all, probably the most important test for the capitalist system as a cure-all for the ills of socialism that there has ever been. The questions are the price, whether the West and Japan can afford it, and whether aid is really the answer."
--South China Morning Post,
"If the Soviet state prosecutor is to be believed, which he is not, the 13 unarmed civilians who were killed during the Soviet crackdown in the Baltics in January were shot by Lithuanian 'terrorists.' Journalists, television crews and bystanders saw Soviet troops storm the television tower in Vilnius. They saw tanks crush demonstrators. We have heard this kind of disinformation before--after the massacre in (Beijing's) Tian An Men Square--and it deserves to be received with contemptuous incredulity . . .
"These are the circumstances in which President Gorbachev is asking Western governments for tens of billions in economic aid to ease the transition to a free market. His commitment to a free market is in doubt, but what is not in doubt is that he is a leader without a democratic mandate. The Lithuanian government, on the other hand, was freely elected. Within the Soviet Union, power is inexorably passing from Moscow to the governments of the individual republics. Why should Mr. Gorbachev be shored up by the West?"
--Evening Standard, London
"Mr. Gorbachev, the Nobel Prize in his hands, already grasps a place in history. . . . Events within the Soviet Union have thus far contrived no possible alternative to either his or (perestroika's) continuance. The question he posed (in Oslo), with renewed eloquence, is how a watching West proposes to respond. The central question . . .
"There is still (in the West) a grim financial resolve not to pour good money after bad. Fine: but not enough. Any accountant can find good reasons for not aiding the Soviet Union in the throes of perestroika. Statesmen, however, will have to examine the cost of doing nothing . . . "
--The Guardian, London
"Many Western leaders want to invite President Gorbachev to the July economic summit in London because they wish to encourage detente. But Mr. Gorbachev's desire to attend has a different cause. The G-7 meeting offers him a prominent platform from which to ask the West for money. He reasons that if he is rebuffed, his hosts will be embarrassed. Since the West will be very foolish indeed if it writes a large check for Moscow, much grief would be avoided by omitting the invitation."
--The Daily Telegraph, London
"Is it possible that the 'grand bargain' will be made at last? The Western world has limited financial resources, but this chance may be too alluring. Perhaps it comes only once in a lifetime. For a few billion dollars, the West can get rid of the 'monster' once and for all. With the support of Gorbachev and his mates, the West can 'de-Sovietize' the Soviet Union.
"Is it worth it?
"The United States is the most cautious, as its taxpayers are not as concerned about the Soviet Union as those who must live in the neighborhood with it . . .
"In question is how much time remains before the generals take over. It would be much harder to negotiate with them. The question is also whether the United States and the West are able to take advantage of a deal that cannot be measured in simple billions of dollars. The outcome would be change of the Soviet system, the chance of which is much smaller without Western support."
--Peter Sereny, in Nepszabadsag, Budapest