US adds environment to Russian aid package: Washington urges that financial assistance be made dependent on clean-up of pollution from oil and nuclear industries

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THE CLINTON administration is planning to link the new Group of Seven financial package for Russia to efforts to clean up the country's heavily polluted environment.

Strobe Talbot, President Clinton's top adviser on policy on the former Soviet Union, is understood to have urged that the new package take Russia's deteriorating environment into account, in contrast to the 1992 financial assistance package.

Financial assistance could amount to as much as dollars 30bn ( pounds 21bn), double the dollars 15bn disbursed in 1992, and will include relief on the dollars 80bn of foreign debts owed by the former Soviet Union. Washington is expected by other G7 countries to urge that funds to restructure industry and upgrade the oil and gas industry should be made conditional on help for the environment. About a quarter of Russian lands are thought to be heavily polluted. Oil spills from leaking pipelines and nuclear waste and leaks are prime causes of the degradation.

Despite a hastily arranged meeting of G7 finance and foreign ministers in Tokyo on 14 and 15 April, senior G7 officials say an emergency summit of G7 leaders in May is still under consideration, with a second summit on the world economy going ahead as scheduled in July.

Despite strong reservations over the effectiveness of another multibillion-dollar assistance package for Russia, work on the new plan will be completed in time for the Clinton- Yeltsin summit in Vancouver next weekend. Key elements of the new package are understood to include:

A standstill on debt servicing and capital repayments on the dollars 80bn foreign debt of the former Soviet Union while a long-term rescheduling agreement is negotiated. This could be worth dollars 17bn to Russia, which faces a heavy debt repayment schedule in 1993 and 1994;

A dollars 10bn-dollars 12bn restructuring fund to help finance small and medium-sized businesses, the conversion of military plants to civilian use and decommissioning nuclear power plants;

The fund will be buttressed by 'sectoral help' financed by the World Bank for key sectors of the Russian economy like oil, gas and agriculture, on condition that energy prices are allowed to rise to world levels;

Roughly dollars 3bn is being readied by the International Monetary Fund conditional on the Russian central bank slowing the flood of rouble credits to industry. The IMF is also planning to draw from a multi-billion-dollar contingency fund financed by the foreign currency reserves of the 10 richest industrial countries.