By BARBARA R. ACKROYD
Russia still faces many economic and political challenges since the institution of a free-market economy and a democratic government, but through persistence, reform and foreign investments Russia will prove to be a strong country and a major player in the international market, said the Russian ambassador to the United States.
In Yuli M. Vorontsov’s speech titled “Russian Challenges and Opportunities at Home,” given to BYU students in a lecture Thursday at 11 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall, Vorontsov outlined the economic and political side effects of entering into a completely new regime head first.
“It is impossible to turn a huge ocean liner quickly. It will take time, but slowly the ship will turn,” Vorontsov said.
Politically there have been some successes. Sixty-seven percent of registered voters voted on the new constitution, he said. “We have a free press now. Some say super free because they have no responsibility, but we are working on that. The bulk of the press is good,” Vorontsov said.
On the down side, we don’t have a good legislation base, he said. “We have to create new legislation for everything,” Vorontsov said.
Russia is in need of lawyers, too. “Maybe we should transfer some of the lawyers from the U.S. to Russia,” Vorontsov said. The lack of people able to prepare legal affairs hampers legislative work as well, he said.
Russian economics paints a bleaker picture of the challenges now facing Russia.
Privatization is great, but people don’t know how to work that way. They are lost in their mental perspective, he said. People are used to operating by orders sent down from the central governing body, Vorontsov said.
“The banks aren’t contributing money to the economy, they are just accumulating it,” Vorontsov said. We need finance enterprises that are sound, but that hasn’t happened yet, he said.
The government decided they needed to concentrate on solving inflation problems, but in doing that they discovered a new dilemma, Vorontsov said. “There is no money in the country now that we have privatized,” he said.
Lack of money presents itself as a problem in taxation too. Seventy-five percent of the businesses are now privately owned and paying 75 to 85 percent in taxes, Vorontsov said. Citizens ask, “From what? How do we pay taxes? We don’t have any money,” he said.
Teachers, doctors and military personnel don’t receive payment for seven months sometimes, Vorontsov said.
“We are now selling warfare because we want to feed our people,” he said.
Looking to the future, Vorontsov said, “We will be a strong economic nation. Russia has good natural resources, and engineers, a strong labor force, great scientists and a good scientific base,” he said. “All the ingredients are there.”
Foreign investments are needed to boost Russia’s economy. The United States only invests $2 million compared to $17 million invested by China, Vorontsov said.
The majority of American businessmen are afraid of investing in Russia, he said. Vorontsov told Americans, “You’ve forgotten about how you did it before. You’ve got to risk a little. We can make a tremendous economic orchestra together,” he said.
Nobody will solve our problems for us, we will do it, Vorontsov said. “We are doing it on the march, all at once,” he said.