Moscow Yields to Temptation

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MOSCOW: Moscow's Friday assurances that a print run of new rubles will be "strictly limited" to refloating Russia's stricken banking system is the financial equivalent of a recovering alcoholic's "just one drink." "Once you start printing money, it's very tempting to keep printing more because you need to pay unpaid wages," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "Fear of social unrest, which will grow if the government is seen to be bailing out the banks but not paying wages, adds to the pressure to print more."

The West has warned that printing rubles will plunge the country back into hyperinflation. If Moscow's money presses start rolling despite the warnings, investors may regard the country as beyond the pale. "Russia is headed on a path of economic introversion, even isolation," says Quinn-Judge. Unless, of course, the West decides that the geopolitical consequences of such a development are even more disastrous than Russia's current economic tribulations.