Poor Russians wake up to a beheaded rouble

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The Independent Online
RUSSIANS woke up yesterday to discover that from tomorrow all roubles issued before this year will be withdrawn from circulation. As the news sank in, Muscovites rushed to spend old notes bearing Lenin's head. Hard currency offices in London were taking 1,900 roubles for a dollar compared with the official rate of about 1,000.

The Central Bank, controlled by parliament, emphasised that it had the support of President Boris Yeltsin's government. The purpose was to stabilise money supply and eliminate forgeries. While pre-1993 banknotes would be invalid from tomorrow, people had until 7 August to change notes. The banks will only change sums up to 35,000 roubles ( pounds 23). Anything above this must be deposited for six months, a condition certain to cause anger because interest rates will not protect the money from 750 per cent annual inflation (the average worker's salary is only 30,000 roubles a month).

'The government is robbing us again,' said Tatyana, a teacher, who remembers three monetary reforms. The most recent, in 1991, withdrew 100-rouble notes ostensibly to combat crime. But the main victims were pensioners.

The government said the campaign was not 'aimed at infringing the legitimate rights of citizens . . . All earned money will be exchanged without inflicting any material damage on people'. Nor was the decision 'aimed at the economic interests of the states using the rouble as legal tender'. Former Soviet republics which still use the rouble may disagree. Belarus sent a telegram to the Kremlin seeking an explanation. The move could strain ties with neighbouring states, but may speed up the introduction of their own currencies.

Yesterday state shops were full of customers stocking up with food. But the panic will start when people return from holiday.