Unification News for November 1999
Chernomyrdin launches Russia-U.S. center at University of Bridgeport
Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin helped open a new Center for United States/Russian Economic Relations at the University of Bridgeport Tuesday, Sept 28. And the university received a large painting said to be of "one of the heavenly corners of Siberia" to hang in the center, which will bear Chernomyrdin’s name.
That and a gift-wrapped baseball bat from the Russian leader, who said it should come in handy for "debate and arguments" he expects the center to generate.
"Never would I have thought a U.S. university would accept my name on such a center," said Chernomyrdin, speaking before a standing-room-only crowd of about 350 students and university officials in the tower room of the Arnold Bernhard Center.
Sitting up front was a contingent of Russian students, who said they were there to hear someone speak who may soon be running for president of their country. UB officials estimate about 70 Russian students are enrolled.
"He’s a very powerful person. When we told our parents he was coming here they didn’t believe us," said Maria Vinogradova, a senior majoring in international business.
American students were there, too.
"I know people from Russia with masters degrees who cant make a decent living back home without entering the black market. Its not right and I’m curious what he would do about it," said Michelle Trieste, a UB student from Westport.
Chernomyrdin, who was prime minister from 1992 to 1998, said with all that has happened in Russia since the fall of communism, social problems were inevitable.
It will take political change, then economic change, before social problems get any better, he said.
Chernomyrdin is currently chairman of Gazprom, Russia’s largest gas production and distribution company. He also is Russia’s special representative for Kosovo.
As C-SPAN cameras documented the speech and U.S. Secret Service staff stood watch, Chernomyrdin through an interpreter made a pitch for continuing and strengthening American aid and partnership with Russia, even though he acknowledged all in Russia is not well.
"There’s been a great deal written both here and at home about corruption, about money laundering and about the outflow of investment capital from Russia," he said.
He said efforts are being made to solve both problems. He also said he is working with his "good friend [Vice President and presidential candidate] Al Gore," on a committee that is trying to strengthen U.S. and Russian economic ties.
"This is the first time in history that our two countries are working like this. This committee has helped bring about 200 projects and has created 100,000 places in the [Russian] work force," he said, adding he wouldn’t want a wave of "isolationism" to stop the process.
Vinogradova, said she and lots of her friends will be graduating in May, told the Russian leader she is at a crossroads.
"Most relatives call us and say stay where we are. But we are patriotic Russians and want to come home. What should we do?" she asked.
"I understand the concern your parents and friends feel for you," Chernomyrdin answered. "But these are problems that have to be solved by us, by you."
Although he acknowledged that reform in Russia is coming much slower and less smoothly than hoped, young educated Russians studying in the U.S. should "come back as soon as possible to help implement reform."
Although the new center has yet to be officially ratified by the university’s Board of Trustees, which meets Saturday, Stoyan Ganev, director of the university’s New England Center for International and Regional Studies, said he expects a major function of the Chernomyrdin Center will be to host dialogues, seminars and conduct research.
He and a number of trustees were on hand to award the Russian dignitary an honorary degree from UB.
"They should become closer," said Dany Kostadinova, a student from Bulgaria. "If there is contradiction [confrontation] between Russia and U.S. the world will be messed up."
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