West will reject call for loans to Russia

RUSSIA ARRIVES in London today as a supplicant at a specially- scheduled meeting of the leading industrialised countries, G7. The meeting at Lancaster House will address the Russian crisis, but the chances of the Russians receiving any kind of financial satisfaction are slim.

One concession has been made: Russian officials will be allowed to make an appearance to make their case directly. But the concept of G8 - in other words, where Russia was allowed to join the top table, as happened in Birmingham just a few months ago - has now gone by the board.

The Russian government had liked to boast of its G8 membership, proving that it was seen as a leading economic player. But, in the words of Kommersant daily, "The crisis has shown that that was premature; again, the West has to save [Russia]."

The West is less eager to be held responsible for Russia's salvation. As one Western diplomat in Moscow noted, there is "no chance" of Russia's demands being satisfied in London today. The general perception is that until Russia comes up with a credible economic policy, any new loans to Moscow would be merely throwing good money after bad.

Most Western governments issued vague or warm endorsements of the new prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, when he was approved on Friday. He is regarded (to use Margaret Thatcher's line on Mikhail Gorbachev) as "somebody we can do business with."

But Viktor Gerashchenko, the new chairman of Russia's central bank, and Yuri Maslyukov, the deputy prime minister who looks set to be the new economic supremo, are less than natural partners. Both men appear to be enthusiasts for the command economy, on the one hand, and for printing more roubles to solve money supply problems on the other. Diplomats say that some of the "welcome, Yuri" messages released on Friday were penned before Western government leaders realised the nature of Mr Primakov's chosen economic team.

One of the main reformist politicians, Grigory Yavlinsky, whose Yabloko party approved the nomination of Mr Primakov last week, has made it clear that Yabloko will not participate in the new government because of its current make-up.

Boris Fyodorov, a key economic reformer in the previous government, has said publicly he will not resign. If Mr Primakov sacks him, yet more of the government's credibility will be squandered.

Mr Primakov held a meeting yesterday of law-enforcement ministers, including the new interior and defence ministers, at the headquarters of the foreign intelligence service (which he used to head); details of the meeting were withheld.

In a reminder of the continuing chaos at the heart of Russian policy, President Yeltsin's loyal press secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, was forced out at the weekend. Apart from Mr Yeltsin's own daughter, Tatyana, there is now almost nobody left in the presidential circle of confidants who has survived the repeated purges of recent years.

There was a reminder, too, of how murky Russian politics are liable to appear. The general prosecutor has opened a criminal case for bribery and abuse of power against Anatoly Sobchak, the former mayor of St Petersburg who was once seen as a leading light of Russian reform. Mr Sobchak has denied the charges.

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