Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to Students at Moscow State University

May 10, 1995

Thank you very much, Rector Sadovnichy, Mrs. Sadovnichy. To the faculty and, most of all, to the students of Moscow State University, I am deeply honored to be here and to be here just a few years after my predecessor President Reagan also spoke to the students.

I can think of no better place than a great seat of learning like Moscow State University to speak about the past and future of Russia. In this spirit, Mikhail Lomonosov lives on, for just as he modernized your ancient language for the Russian people two centuries ago, today you must take the lead in shaping a new language, a language of democracy that will help all Russia to chart a new course for your ancient land. Here, you openly debate the pressing issues of the day. And though you can only hear echoes of your nation's history, you are living it and making it as you ponder and prepare for what is yet to come.

Yesterday all of Russia and much of the entire world paused to remember the end of World War II and the terrible, almost unimaginable price the peoples of the Soviet Union paid for survival and for victory. Because our alliance with you was shattered at the war's end by the onset of the cold war, Americans never fully appreciated, until yesterday, the true extent of your sacrifice and its contribution to our common victory. And the Russian people were denied the full promise of that victory in World War II, a victory that bought the West five decades of freedom and prosperity.

Now the cold war is over. Democracy has triumphed through decades of Western resolve, but that victory was also yours, through the determination of the peoples of Russia, the other former Soviet republics, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to be free and to move into the 21st century as a part of, not apart from, the global movement toward greater democracy, prosperity, and common security.

Your decision for democracy and cooperation has given us the opportunity to work together to fulfill the promise of our common victory over forces of fascism 50 years ago. I know that it was not an easy decision to make and that it is not always an easy decision to stay with. I know that you in Russia will have to chart your own democratic course based on your own traditions and culture, as well as on the common challenges we face.

We Americans have now spent over 200 years setting our own course. Along the way we have endured deep divisions and one Civil War. We have made mistakes at home and in our relations with other people. At times we have fallen short of our own ideals. Our system can sometimes seem unnecessarily burdened by divisions and constraint. But as Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others." It has produced more prosperity, more security, and more opportunity for self-fulfillment than all of its competitors in the entire world in the last 200 years.

The United States supports the forces of democracy and reform here in Russia because it is in our national interest to do so. I have worked hard to make this post-cold-war world a safer and more hopeful place for the American people. As President, that is my job. That is every President's job. But I have had the opportunity, unlike my recent predecessors, to work with Russia instead of being in opposition to Russia. And I want to keep it that way.

I am proud that for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, no Russian missiles are pointed at the children of America. And now that I am here, I might paraphrase what your Foreign Minister told me in Washington last month: I am also proud that no American missiles are pointed at you or me for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age.

Both our nations are destroying thousands of nuclear weapons at a faster rate than our treaties require. We have removed the last nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and Belarus will soon follow. We are cooperating with you to prevent nuclear weapons and bombmaking materials from falling into the hands of terrorists and smugglers. We are working together to extend indefinitely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

Your progress on the economic front is also important. I have seen reports that more than 60 percent of your economy is now in private hands. Inflation is dropping, and your government is taking sensible steps to control its budget deficit. Managers work to satisfy customers and to make profits. Employees, more and more, search for the best jobs at the highest wages. And every day, despite hardship and uncertainty, more and more Russian people are able to make decisions in free markets rather than having their choices dictated to them.

We have supported these reforms. They are good for you, but they are also good for the United States and for the rest of the world, for they bring us together and move us forward.

I know there are severe problems. There are severe problems in your transition to a market economy. I know, too, that in anywhere free markets exist, they do not solve all social problems. They require policies that can ensure economic fairness and basic human decency to those who need and deserve help.

Finally, I know that all democracies, the United States included, face new challenges from the emergence of the global economy and the information age, as well as from the threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, by organized crime, and by terrorism. But the answer is not to back away from democracy or to go back to isolation. The answer is not to go back to defining your national interest in terms that make others less secure. The answer is to stay on this course, to reap the full benefits of democracy, and to work on these problems with those of us who have a stake in your success, because your success makes us safer and more prosperous as well.

That success, I believe, depends upon three things: first, continuing to strengthen your democracy; second, improving your economy and reducing social and economic problems; and third, establishing your role in the world in a way that enhances your economic and national security interests, not at the expense of your friends and neighbors but in cooperation with them.

First, the work of building democracy never ends. The democratic system can never be perfected, because human beings are not perfect. In America today, we are engaged in a renewed debate over which decisions should be made by our National Government and which ones should be made locally or by private citizens on their own, unimpeded by Government. We argue today over the proper roles of the different branches of Government, and we argue over how we can be strengthened, not weakened, by the great diversity in our society. These are enduring challenges that all democracies face.

But no element among them is more fundamental than the holding of free elections. In our meetings today, President Yeltsin once again pledged to keep on schedule both a new round of parliamentary elections in December and the Presidential election next June. He has shown that he understands what has often been said about a new democracy: The second elections are even more important than the first, for the second elections establish a pattern of peaceful transition of power.

Therefore, I urge all Russians who have the right to vote to exercise that vote this year and next year. Many people sacrificed so that you could have this power. I address that plea especially to the young people in this room and throughout your great nation. Your future is fully before you. And these elections will shape that future. Do not fall into the trap that I hear even in my own country of believing that your vote does not count. It does count. It will count if you cast it. And if you do not cast it, that will count for something, too. So I urge you to exercise the vote.

But the heart of a democracy does not lie in the ballot box alone. That is why it is also important that your generation continue to demand and support a free and independent press.

Again, this can be a difficult, even dangerous process, as the people in your press know all too well. Dmitriy Kholodov and Vladislav Listyev were murdered in pursuit of the truth, victims of their vigorous belief in the public's right to know. You must not allow those assassins who targeted them to steal from your people one of the essential freedoms of democracy, the freedom of the press.

There is another challenge, a challenge of building tolerance, for tolerance, too, lies at the heart of any democracy. Few nations on Earth can rival Russia's vast human and natural resources or her diversity. Within your borders live more than 100 different ethnic groups. Scores of literary, cultural, and artistic traditions thrive among your people. And in the last few years, millions have returned to their faiths, seeking refuge in their stability and finding hope in their teachings. These are vital signs of democracy taking root.

Given your nation's great diversity, it would have been easy along this path to surrender to the cries of extremists who in the name of patriotism have tried to rally support by stirring up fear among different peoples. But you have embraced, instead, the cause of tolerance. The vast majority of Russians have rejected those poisonous arguments and bolstered your young, fragile democracy.

When Americans and others in the West look back on the events of the last 4 years, we are struck by the remarkably peaceful nature of your revolutionary transition. Your accomplishment, to go through a massive social and political upheaval and the breakup of an empire with so little brutality and bloodshed, has few precedents in history. Your restraint was a critical factor in paving the way for Russia to take its place in the global community, a modern state at peace with itself and its neighbors.

Now, it is against this backdrop, this great achievement, that we Americans have viewed the tragedy in Chechnya. As I told President Yeltsin earlier today, this terrible tragedy must be brought to a rapid and peaceful conclusion. Continued fighting in that region can only spill more blood and further erode support for Russia among her neighbors around the world.

Holding free elections, ensuring a free and independent press, promoting tolerance of diversity, these are some of the difficult tasks of building a democracy. They are all important.

But these efforts also depend upon your economic reforms. Your efforts on the political front will benefit from efforts on the economic front that generate prosperity and give people a greater stake in a democratic future.

To too many people in this country I know that economic reform has come to mean hardship, uncertainty, crime, and corruption. Profitable enterprises once owned by the state have been moved into private hands, sometimes under allegedly questionable circumstances. The demands of extortionists have stopped some would-be entrepreneurs from even going into business. And when the heavy hand of totalitarianism was lifted from your society, many structures necessary for a free market to take shape were not there, and organized crime was able to move into the vacuum.

These are real and urgent concerns. They demand an all-out battle to create a market based on law, not lawlessness, a market that rewards merit, not malice. Economic reform must not be an excuse for the privileged and the strong to prey upon the weak.

To help your government break the power of those criminals, our Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an office here in Moscow. And we are cooperating with your government's attempts to strengthen the integrity of your markets.

Pressures in the market economy are also leaving some people behind, people whose needs are not being met and who are not able to compete and win, while some of the richest are said to pay no taxes at all. Those Russians who lose their jobs or who live in poverty deserve an economic and social safety net that is strong enough to break their fall and keep them going until they can get back on their feet.

Finally, market economies require discipline. Cutting inflation helps families struggling to become members of the new Russian middle class so they need not fear the future. Continuing your country's recent record of more realistic budgets is vital to achieving long-term economic stability. I say this from experience. From the beginning of my administration I have pursued these goals, because even though they require some sacrifice in the short term, they promise lasting economic growth that will benefit all of our people and yours as well.

The transition to a more honest and open market economy requires time. New problems will appear as your economy gains ground. But in the midst of the pain, I would urge you also to see the promise. Countries that were in economic ruin at the end of World War II today rank among the world's most dynamic nations because they have made a market economy and democracy work.

Finally, Russia's success at political and economic reform at home requires an approach to the world that reinforces your progress and enhances your security. Russia and the United States must work together in this regard. We must work for our common security. More than anything else, that is what my meeting with President Yeltsin today was all about, and we made progress in many areas. I would like to report them to you.

First, Russia agreed to implement its Partnership For Peace with NATO. And I agreed now to press NATO to begin talks on a special relationship with Russia.

The United States has made it clear that we favor a strong continuing NATO, that any admission of new members be based on the principles we have articulated along with our partners. It must be gradual and deliberate and open and consistent with the security interests of all of our partners for peace, including Russia.

My goal since I became President has been to use the fact that the cold war is over to unify Europe for the first time in its history. And that is what we must all be working for. President Yeltsin's decision to join the Partnership For Peace will support that move toward security and unity.

Second, the United States strongly believes that there should be no future nuclear cooperation with Iran. We believe that is in Russia's interest. Today President Yeltsin said that Russia would not sell enrichment technology or training to Iran because that could clearly be used to develop a nuclear capacity. And that should be more important to you than to us because you are closer to Iran than we are. I gave President Yeltsin some intelligence that the United States Government has that we believe supports the proposition that no nuclear cooperation in the future, not even the light water reactors, should proceed. And the two of us agreed to ask the special commission headed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Vice President Gore to look into this matter further.

On the outstanding issues of arms sales to Iran, we reached agreement with Russia which will now permit Russia, your country, to be one of the founding members of the so-called post-COCOM regime, an agreement among nations to limit the sales of all dangerous weapons around the world in ways that will increase your security and ours.

Next, we agreed to immediately work to see if we could get our respective parliamentary bodies to ratify the START II treaty this year so that we could continue to reduce our nuclear arsenals and, after START II is ratified, to consider further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia to make your future safer. We also agreed to a statement of principles on one of the most difficult issues in our security relationship, how we define socalled theater missile defenses in the context of our Antiballistic Missile Treaty—designed, again, to make us both safer.

Next, we agreed to begin visits to our biological weapons installations this August as part of our continued commitment to reduce the threat of biological and chemical weapons proliferation throughout the world. And if you consider what recently happened, the terrible incident in the subway in Japan, our future security and your future security is threatened not only by nuclear weapons but by the potential of biological and chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands as well.

And finally, in the wake of all those incidents, the problems in Russia with organized crime, and the awful tragedy that we had in our country in Oklahoma City, the United States and Russia agreed that we must work much harder in sharing information, sharing technology, sharing research in the areas of combating terrorism and organized crime.

This meeting was a success because every one of those decisions will give you and your counterparts in the United States a safer future. And we need to do more of this kind of work together.

As we close the door on this 20th century, the bloodiest century in the history of the world, I am convinced that the next century and your most productive years will be the most exciting time, the time most full of possibility in all history. The global economy, the explosion of information, the incredible advances in technology, the ability of people to move rapidly across large spaces, all of these trends are bringing us into a more integrated world. But we must all realize that these forces of integration have a dark underside.

In the 21st century, we will face new and different security threats. In the 21st century, I predict to you, there will be no world war to write about between nations fighting over territory. I predict to you that there will not be a new great colossus killing tens of millions of its own citizens to maintain control. I believe the battles of the 21st century will be against the organized forces of destruction that can cross national lines or threaten us from within our borders. We see these forces in the bombing of the World Trade Center, in the terrible tragedy in Oklahoma City in the United States. We see it in the bombings on the streets in Israel, designed to kill the peace process in the Middle East. We see it in that terrible gas attack in the Tokyo subway. We see it in the problems that you and so many other nations have with organized crime.

The more open and flexible our societies are, the more our people are able to move freely without restraint, the greater we are exposed to those kinds of threats. And so we must become more and more vigilant. We must work together to defeat these new security threats, for in this new century, the world wants and needs strong democratic countries where people are truly free and secure. And this world needs a strong and democratic Russia to help meet these challenges.

It is in that context that I have pledged to President Yeltsin we will continue to work on all the issues between us. And it is in that context that I urged the President to have no future nuclear cooperation with Iran.

Think about the future that we have together. We have already witnessed what Russia can do on the world stage when it is completely engaged and committed to democracy. From the Near East to as far away as El Salvador, America and the world have been made more secure by Russian leadership and cooperation. As Russia takes her rightful place, we believe that the trends toward democracy and economic freedom and tolerance must and will continue.

Yesterday your nation looked back at 50 years and paid homage to the heroes of World War II. Today let us look ahead 50 years to the next century when your children and your grandchildren will recall those who stood against the coups, who voted in free elections, who claimed their basic human rights and liberties which had been so long denied, those who made Russia a full partner in the global march toward freedom and prosperity and security. They will look back, and they will be grateful.

I know there are some in this country who do not favor this course. And believe me, there are some people in my country who do not believe that you will follow this course. They predict that, instead, you will repeat the patterns of the past. Well, of course the outcome is not assured; nothing in human affairs is certain. But I believe those negative voices are mistaken.

All sensible people understand the enormous challenges you face, but if there is one constant element in your history, it is the strength and resilience of the Russian people. You have survived in this century devastating losses in two World Wars that would have broken weaker spirits. You succeeded in bringing an end to a communist system and to a cold war that had dominated human affairs for decades. You have ushered in a new era of freedom. And you can go the rest of the way.

In the future, your progress may well be measured not by glorious victories but by gradual improvements. And therefore, in your efforts you will need time and patience, two virtues that Leo Tolstoy called the strongest of all warriors.

You must know in this endeavor that you will not be alone, for Russians and Americans share this bond. We both must learn from our past, and we both must find the courage to change to make the future that our children deserve. For the sake of your generation and generations to come, I believe we will all rise to the challenge.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:12 p.m. in the Main Hall at the university. In his remarks, he referred to Viktor Antonovich Sadovnichy, rector of the university; Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev of Russia; and journalist Dmitriy Kholodov and television personality Vladislav Listyev, who were assassinated in Russia. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Students at Moscow State University Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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