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U.S. to Double Russia Aid for Defense Plant Conversion : Europe: A 'pragmatic partnership' is cited. Perry tells Moscow that $20 million will be added.

March 19, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The United States will double the aid it has pledged for Russian defense conversion, allocating $20 million more to help weapons factories produce civilian goods in joint ventures with U.S. companies, Defense Secretary William J. Perry announced Friday.

The increase in U.S. aid comes despite rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over espionage, the fate of economic reform and Russia's assertive new foreign policy.

Perry and his Russian hosts spoke different languages but used an identical phrase--"pragmatic partnership"--to describe the changing U.S-Russian relationship.

The new program announced Friday aims to appease both American critics, who argue that aid to Russia would be better spent at home, and Russian industrialists, who are frustrated that long-promised Western aid and investment have yet to materialize.

The grant money will be distributed through the U.S. firms--thus ensuring that it is spent to convert weapons plants, not upgrade them--to help defray start-up costs of ventures with ailing defense industries in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

One such possible project, Perry said, is a venture to convert one of several advanced defense electronics plants--that are now being privatized--to build personal computers for the Russian market.

Russian officials suggested cooperation in commercial satellites, housing construction, air traffic control and ticketing, and other civilian communication technologies.

The program is designed to stimulate both the Russian and U.S. economies, while requiring most of the capital, labor and technology to be invested by the private sector and all of the work to be performed by the two countries' private sectors.

The defense conversion pact was signed by Perry, Russian First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin and First Deputy Economics Minister Valery Mikhailov on Friday as Perry wound up a two-day visit to Moscow that included talks on destroying chemical and biological weapons and on Russia's role in negotiating a settlement of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The new U.S. defense secretary also met with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, though President Boris N. Yeltsin is vacationing on the Black Sea and did not receive him.

But even as Perry was delivering an upbeat assessment of his trip, Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, in article headlined "Don't Threaten Us," chastised Western politicians for treating Russia "not as an equal partner but as a junior partner."

"Russia is destined to be a great power, not a junior one," Kozyrev wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece published Friday. "Under Communist or nationalist regimes, it would be an aggressive power, while under democratic rule it would be peaceful and prosperous. But in either case it would be a great power."

Kozyrev warned of "chauvinistic new banners that flap in the Washington wind" and argued that "there is simply no alternative to genuine partnership" between Russia and the United States.

In subtler fashion, Mikhailov also drove home the notion that Russia will no longer play supplicant for Western aid.

Even while noting that the defense conversion program had been discussed "in an exceptionally amicable and cordial atmosphere," Mikhailov stressed that "we are not talking about assistance, but about cooperation and co-production."

Perry pointedly spoke of a "special role" for Russia in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, a loose military cooperation agreement for countries of the former Warsaw Pact and newly independent Soviet republics.

After strongly objecting to its former satellites becoming members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization before Russia does, Moscow agreed Thursday to submit a proposal to join the partnership by the end of the month.

Perry said Russia, as the largest and most powerful member of the partnership, would naturally play a greater role in the Partnership for Peace.

In a briefing for Western reporters Friday, Perry said the Partnership for Peace idea had been received favorably by about half the members of Parliament he had met with a day earlier.

The Russian skeptics, he said, were much like American critics, some of whom favor cutting off aid to Russia.

Perry argued that both countries have an interest in cooperating on defense conversion, disarmament, military cooperation and prevention of nuclear proliferation.

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