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Soros to Aid Russia With Gift of Up to $500 Million

October 21, 1997|VANORA BENNETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — U.S. financier-philanthropist George Soros announced Monday that he will spend up to half a billion dollars on Russia in the next three years, investing in such projects as improving health care, spreading Internet know-how and helping reform the country's chaotic armed forces.

The new gifts would make him a bigger donor to Russia than the United States, which gave the country $95 million in foreign aid last year.

"For planning purposes, we are using a target of $300 [million] to $500 million over a three-year period, but I want to emphasize that until we have the proper management in place, our plans will remain just that--plans," he said.

The health program, a response to Russia's declining birthrate, will target mother-and-child care, widespread tuberculosis and treatment of drug-resistant bacteria.

Soros also plans new Internet centers in universities, legal and public libraries. "Our intent is to make the Internet broadly available to the public at public places rather than limiting it to the relatively few who can afford their own computers," he said.

His charity, the Soros Foundation, will offer retraining for those being demobilized from Russia's army, which under long-promised military reforms is to be cut from its huge Soviet-level size. A similar program in another former Soviet republic, Ukraine, has allowed 50,000 people to retrain, about 80% of whom have found civilian jobs or started small businesses.

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Soros, 67, has spent the past two weeks traveling across Russia, inspecting the results of his 10-year philanthropic involvement in the country. During that decade, the Hungarian-born businessman has contributed more than $350 million, much of it for programs to shore up Russia's scientific community and support education.

Soros, who is critical of the "robber capitalism" he believes has developed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, said he wants to underpin the growth of a more legal form of capitalism here. He called for Russia's top half a dozen bankers, who wield immense power in the country, to lead the way.

He also shrugged off Russian suspicions that he is one of the "robber capitalists" he criticizes.

"I have a political objective, which is to help foster an open society, and I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of," Soros said.

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