Finance minister: thanks, but no thanks, to Western food aid

MOSCOW (AP) — Despite an economic crisis, disappointing harvest and forecasts of a particularly frigid winter, Russia’s finance minister said Thursday the country does not yet need foreign food or other humanitarian aid.
At the same time, Mikhail Zadornov expressed hope that more cold, hard cash will be forthcoming from the International Monetary Fund.
However, Zadornov’s deputy said that was unlikely to happen because the Russian government still has no long-term plan for coping with the latest economic crisis that erupted in mid-August.
The Russian government has appealed for humanitarian aid from the European Union and is holding talks with the United States for subsidized grain. But Zadornov suggested such plans were premature.
Zadornov said he hoped a visiting IMF team would recommend disbursing more of a $22.6 billion loan package negotiated before the crisis hit. It was frozen in September after the first $4.8 billion installment was paid.
The IMF’s chief representative in Moscow, Martin Gilman, told Russian news agencies that the question of further loan installments had not come up in the talks. He did not say what they were talking about.
Zadornov’s deputy, Oleg Vyugin, said that the lack of a more comprehensive economic plan through the end of 1999 would hamper the talks with the IMF.
The Russian government has said it is counting on IMF money to help pay its bills for the rest of the year.
It plans to spend $7.6 billion in the final three months of the year, but expects revenues of only around $4.1 billion.
It is planning to print more rubles to cover at least some of the shortfall. Zadornov said it might also raise money by increasing excise taxes by 25 percent or selling 5 percent of its shares in the national gas monopoly Gazprom.
He said Russia has already paid $500 million interest on its foreign debt this quarter and plans to spend another $2 billion.