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Russia: Prime Minister Pledges Continued Economic Reform

Salzburg, 1 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin says the Russian government will forge ahead with key economic reforms -- including fostering an open, transparent business environment, and fighting corruption -- in order to ensure economic and political stability. Stepashin, in a special address today on the sidelines of the fourth annual Central and Eastern European Economic Summit in Salzburg, Austria, said mistakes of the past cannot be used as a pretext to avoid carrying out much-needed reforms. He said decades of mistrust could only be overcome by building an open, civil society based on rule of law.

Turning to Kosovo, Stepashin said Russia would take a "priority role" in the development of civil administration in the Balkans once peace is secured. At the same time, he said Russia believes that Yugoslavias territorial sovereignty must remain intact.

Stepashin added that the end of the war in Kosovo could be evaluated "positively." But he had strong criticisms for the NATO-led action against Yugoslavia, as well as U.S. and Western pledges since to block all financial aid as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Stepashin said Yugoslavias economy and people had suffered enough, and that Russia would be working to see that they get as full an aid sum as possible, without preconditions.

Stepashin also made a special appeal to international investors on behalf of Russia, saying their assistance was needed to ensure the development of the appropriate economic and social structures that could spur the eventual growth of a Russian middle class.

Stepashin said poverty risks instability and, in turn, threatens direct foreign investment. As such, Stepashin said the government would work to deepen cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And he expressed "optimism" that Russia would not become an "economic outcast" on the threshold of the new millennium.