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Russia: Officials In Washington For IMF And World Bank Meetings

Washington, 22 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russia may be boycotting this weekend's NATO summit in Washington, but senior officials from Moscow will still be in the American capital. They'll be just down the street at the regular spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The big NATO summit forced the two global financial institutions to shift parts of their meetings to avoid conflicts, but the IMF and World Bank have agendas of their own and Russia, according to IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, is at the top.

"Russia is at this very moment probably the most difficult problem we must tackle. And indeed, here we are in a domain where there are no such things as evidences. Nothing is evident there. Everything is difficult," he said.

At a press conference Wednesday, Camdessus was answering questions about the fund's continued efforts to work out a way to resume lending to Russia. After all, went the questions, the fund itself has acknowledged that Moscow lost its last IMF loan because it failed to meet its promises on implementing reforms.

Camdessus responded that indeed Russian officials had done some "back-peddling" in the process of economic reforms. But he said, Moscow has been trying to do a lot by itself to avoid major negative developments:

Camdessus said: "What we have seen, and of course we have been in a permanent dialogue with them throughout this period, is that they have tried to maintain the dialogue with their creditors and in particular for the debt of Russia, they have made every effort to try to stay current while they were applying for rescheduling of the former Soviet Union debt."

The IMF head said there has been progress in negotiations with Moscow. He said the Russians have agreed to amend the current budget to limit the effective deficit and even to create a surplus of two percent this year not counting debt repayments.

But he said the fund and the bank have both been working with Russian officials to adopt some major changes in the structures of major parts of the Russian economy.

Camdessus said: "We want in particular to see more rapid progress in banking restructuring, we want to have full clarification of the suspicions that have been raised about the use of our resources, the propriety of the behavior of the central bank, we are looking forward to the results of the audit in this domain. But in view of what they have been doing, in view of what they tell of us of their intentions -- and you know I have personally spent many, many hours discussing that with Mr. Primakov -- we believe that there is still the possibility to agree with them soon."

Camdessus said it's possible there might even be good news in the next few days, but he was quick to keep that in perspective, saying that major issues remain to be resolved. He added that if there is no "good news" this week, the IMF will continue to work with Russia to get it through this difficult period.

Exactly how a new loan for Russia would be structured is not clear, but Camdessus says Moscow understands that the IMF will have to be tough in lending any more money:

He said: "They (Russian officials) themselves recognize that we will have demonstrate extra care in this operation and to maintain a strong surveillance, and be minding for the implementation of their commitments. "

The IMF Managing Director, used to being questioned about whether the U.S. and other member governments were pressuring the fund to lend more money to Russia, was challenged from a different perspective this time. He was asked if the U.S. and its NATO allies were pressuring the fund not to lend to Moscow because of Russia's opposition to the air strikes on Serbia.

"No Sir," was Camdessus's quick response. Like fish in the deep seas who don't feel the water pressure and humans who don't feel atmospheric pressure, the IMF doesn't even perceive such pressures.

Camdessus said he couldn't say if there were people around who wanted to pressure the IMF one way or the other on Russia, but he said, political pressures don't determine in any way the fund's course of action in Russia.

An IMF team is currently in Moscow working on the framework agreement Camdessus himself negotiated a few weeks ago with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. But senior Russian officials attending the bank and fund meetings through next Wednesday will also be negotiating with top IMF officials in Washington.