Moscow Reaches for the Begging Bowl

  • Share
  • Read Later
Russia's Central Bank tripled interest rates today to a surreal 150 percent. The desperate bid to cool a market meltdown was accompanied by a shift in speculation as to how Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko plans to save the economy: "The word yesterday was 'devaluation'; the word today is 'bailout,'" says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. And that may leave Russia's fate in the hands of Newt Gingrich and his congressional followers.

With the stock market plummeting, the ruble propped up by rapidly depleting currency reserves and zero economic growth projected for this year, Moscow is looking to the IMF to keep its economy from going over the edge, reports Meier. A group of top Russian bankers approached IMF boss Marcel Camdessus today to beg for an estimated short-term $5 billion bailout, with further guarantees of up to $15 billion.

The IMF has already been hesitant about disbursing the next installment of its long-term $10 billion loan to Russia, but more serious is the fact that the IMF is essentially broke, says TIME correspondent Bruce Van Voorst. Replenishment of IMF reserves was stalled by the U.S. Congress's failure to approve an $18 billion contribution. But with a lot of American investors likely to be badly burned if Russia is allowed to go belly up, Gingrich and company may soon be feeling the heat.