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MOSCOW -- Official statistics show the volume of Russian bank lending to companies and individuals has increased by 1.5-2 percent in a possible sign that the credit crunch has eased slightly, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

At the same time, overdue debt to banks decreased for the first time since the beginning of this year.

Mark Rubenstein, a bank analyst with finance company Metropol, called the recent lending increase in Russia a positive sign.

"The past two months have indicated a turn towards optimism," he said. "In June, the level of corporate loans rose by 2 percent in comparison with June of 2009."

Rubenstein added that "the amount of retail loans went up by 1.6 percent, which is huge growth, especially when one bears in mind that retails loans have been down in Russia for one and half years."

Leonid Slipchenko, a bank analyst at the investment company Uralsib Capital, said the growth in credit was predictable.

"In the second quarter of 2010, credit risk in Russia fell markedly, and the economic situation in Russia started to return to normal," he said. "Furthermore, low [interest] rates helped credit to grow."

Slipchenko said in some cases it is possible to take a loan at an even lower rate of interest than before the global economic crisis began.

He said retail lending rates have also fallen. Slipchenko stressed that although the increase in lending is small, it is likely to have a positive effect on the Russian economy.