Leading Article: Now is not the time to lend Russia even more money

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The Independent Culture
A DELEGATION of the International Monetary Fund began talks in Moscow yesterday on releasing part of a $4.5bn loan to Russia. The Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, is optimistic that the money will be disbursed. He should be proved wrong.

An approval of the planned $640m tranche will send all the wrong signals. This is not a time to reward Russia; on the contrary. Russian attacks on civilian targets in Chechnya continue, even as Western leaders timidly criticise the brutal assaults.

The granting of loans makes life easier for the Russian government, just when it is embarking on an expensive and probably long-drawn-out war. The message seems to be, "Give us the money - we'll decide what to spend it on." Morality aside, the Chechen war is a drain on the Russian economy. Disbursing money to Russia at this stage is the equivalent of giving a patient a blood transfusion while he opens up his own arteries.

Moscow issues dire warnings of the catastrophe that will follow if Western bankers are unkind. This is a familiar tack. Mikhail Gorbachev repeatedly insisted that the West must give him billions of dollars in loans, or face disaster; meanwhile his most respected economic advisers deserted him in droves because of his dogged refusal to introduce the radical reforms they believed were essential. Neither Mr Gorbachev nor the West appeared to notice the inherent contradiction.

The contrasts remain stark. Yesterday, we saw the blackly comic sight of Mr Putin declaring that "the time has come" to declare war on corruption, in order "to preserve the people's trust in the state". Until now, Mr Putin presumably did not believe that such an attack was essential - though a report by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development argued this week that corruption in Russia is one of the most important obstacles to growth.

Mr Putin acknowledged that criminal groups influence huge areas of Russia's economy, and that Russia's "international prestige" has been damaged. These admissions are all very well. But it would be nice if they were accompanied by tough action. Most observers reckon that corruption is still at the heart of Russian government. The West can help; but not until Russia is willing to dig itself out of the political, economic and military hole that it has dug.

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