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    MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti) - Many Americans wonder where Russia is going-toward democracy or away from it-U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey noted at a panel discussion on the RIA premises Tuesday. This clearly expresses the motive behind the current visit to Russia by Mr. Hinchey, alongside two of his colleagues, Ben Chandler and Tom Lantos.

    Today's panel discussion was moderated by Andrei Zolotov Jr., editor-in-chief of the Russia Profile magazine, a co-production of the RIA news agency and the international publishing house Independent Media. The Russian panelists included Gleb Pavlovsky, President of the Effective Policy Foundation think tank, and Andrei Fyodorov, Director for Political Programs in the Defense & Foreign Policies Council, to name just two.

    The discussion's peaceful atmosphere could be attributed to the absence of Mr. Lantos, who initiated the House Foreign Committee's resolution recommending to the U.S. Administration that it should push for the expulsion of Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. The Russian participants had a lot of questions to put to him, specifically, whether the resolution was conceived as an instrument for pressurizing Russia. Replying for his absent colleague, Mr. Hinchey said the motion was, rather, an expression of concern over voter doubts with regard to Russia and that it reflected its architects' opinion only.

    But the notorious resolution was not the only topic under discussion. Mr. Chandler revealed that one of the goals of his trip to Russia was to find out whether this country was forward- or backward-looking in political, economic and legal terms and whether an investor friendly climate was a long-term priority with the local business and political elites.

    In the 1990s, not a single one of the Russian government's decisions enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority of the population, Mr. Pavlovsky pointed out. In the past three or four years, however, the government has become more sensitive to public sentiment, he said. President Vladimir Putin's reforms are focused on property and aimed at increasing the number of small proprietors. This helps expand the Kremlin's democratic base, opening up a more reliable way for Russian citizens' involvement in their country's political and economic life.

    Mr. Fyodorov called the American panelists' attention to the fact that throughout the Russian state's history, reforms had always been imposed from the top. In his view, the relations between Russia and the United States are now heavily dependent on personal interaction between the two Presidents whereas the multilevel system of contacts that had been molded back in the '90s is now in ruins and has to be rebuilt anew.

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