In the history of the Wild West, the good guys wore white hats and the bad ones wore black. Hazardous journeys requiring guts and nerves of steel were part of the white hats' franchise. This week fate dictated that as Russia's new ambassador, Yuri Ushakov, was stepping out to meet Washington society at a barbecue bash, an investigation was heightening into allegations of Russian money laundering and kickbacks by a Swiss firm involving President Boris Yeltsin. At least Ushakov got some white toppers as a howdy gift.

Decked out with checkered red-and-white tablecloths, candles and bandannas, the back yard of Esther Coopersmith, Washington's resident ambassador of good causes and greeter of the great, offered a soothing setting for the Russian envoy and his wife Svetlana. They not only sampled traditional baked beans, brisket, spareribs, chicken, and corn on the cob; they also were presented with snappy white cowboy hats.

Ushakov was overcome with emotion as he thanked his hostess for her friendly gesture, "especially in this very difficult time, specifically this so-called Russiagate.

"I would like to tell you about Russians. Not all of them are criminals, not all of them are thugs and bandits. At least we are not here, perhaps. Thank you for your warmth; we feel it."

Ushakov said one of the gift hats was going to visiting 3-year-old grandson Misha for his birthday, a day he and grandpa will remember.

Asked to comment later on how the turmoil at home was affecting him just seven months into his tour of duty here, the ambassador said: "I think we have to calm down. We have a lot of other things to talk about." That's more like it.

It Pays to Know Banking

If anyone could revolutionize traditional banking practices that spawned a major financial crisis in Japan, it is Hakuo Yanagisawa, chairman of Japan's Financial Reconstruction Commission. He told a group of Washington Post editors and reporters Wednesday that when he assumed the position, he was "dismayed" by the staggering amount of bad bank loans that had not been disclosed--20.3 trillion yen to be exact. And not only that; every time a case was completed, something else popped up. Under old practices the Ministry of Finance adopted what he called a "convoy system" of not allowing one bank to fail or fall behind. There was no real oversight of the banks, so the authorities had no way of knowing whether financial institutions were solvent.

The Financial Supervisory Agency, set up in 1998, has taken care of that problem and is now in charge of bank inspections, he said. Two failing long-term credit banks and four regional banks were allowed to fail, marking what he calls "a new era, a new time."

Yanagisawa, who met this week with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, noted additionally that "we had to work on the protection of depositors and to protect sound borrowers from failing, so the financial reconstruction law was enacted," among other legislation.

Meanwhile, at a farewell dinner in his honor, Japanese Ambassador Kunihiko Saito was complimented for his country's turnaround. U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering toasted Saito, an accomplished pianist, for being "like his music, smooth and versatile and fully in charge."