Russia's Loan Officer Is Skeptical

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MOSCOW: International Monetary Fund official Stanley Fischer left Moscow on Wednesday with some weighty reading for the plane ride home: Russian premier Sergei Kiriyenko's newest plan to make the Russian economy a good risk for a $10 billion IMF bailout. But before leaving, Fischer made it clear that the Russian bear would have to do plenty of dancing before the fund would consider opening its near-empty wallet.

"The IMF doesn't have much more than $15 billion left," says TIME business reporter Bernard Baumohl. "It knows that that kind of money would just be a temporary stopgap to support the ruble and pay some wages -- to buy some time." For Russia to have a chance at recovery, the money has to be linked to real reform -- improved tax collection and deep spending cuts.

But Russia, despite the promises of its president, may not be ready to change. "The Duma makes reform very difficult -- in part because the hard-liners wouldn't mind if the Yeltsin government fell," says Baumohl. Perhaps Yeltsin will disband the Duma after all -- if only to get his hands on that loan.