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Faster Aid for Russia? Maybe Not

Western officials in Moscow admitted Friday to doubts that their governments could speed aid to Russia despite promises by senior astern policy-makers to do so'".

"We're already going as fast as we can, given our responsibility for prudent management", an official of the U. S. Agency for International Development said in an interview in Moscow.

He was responding to comments by a senior official in Washington that the United States would probably accelerate its assistance in the wake of President Boris Yeltsin's imposition of presidential rule.

The German government also announced that it would push its Western allies for more Russian aid.

"The current critical situation must be an admonition for all Western industrial nations to help Russia on its difficult path out of the socialist legacy", Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told the German parliament Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

But severe budget crunches in countries like Germany and Britain will probably keep new funds from being approved, one Western diplomat said. Much of their assistance comes in the form of export credits, which help Russia import Western goods. But Russia has shown an aversion to such loans in hopes of limiting its foreign debt.

Officials are also concerned that throwing money at the Russian economic problem would be wasteful.

"If you hurry it up you risk not spending effectively", said one Western diplomat.

At a meeting in Tokyo in July, the Group of Seven promised a $43. 5 billion Russian assistance package, including $15 billion in debt relief.

The remaining $28. 5 billion is to include export credits and substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, much of which has been put on hold after the government failed to meet economic targets it had agreed to.

World Bank and IMF officials have affirmed in the days since Yeltsin dismissed parliament that their funds will remain tied to Russia's economic performance.

In one quick response to the crisis, the U. S. Senate on Thursday approved the $12. 5 billion foreign aid bill, including $2. 5 billion in assistance for Russia and other former Soviet Republics.

The Senate attached a rider to the bill linking aid to the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltics. Before the aid can be disbursed, President Bill Clinton must certify progress on troop withdrawal.

The bill must go to a conference Monday with the House of Representatives, which passed an aid bill with 125 differences from the one adopted by the Senate.

Despite the quick Senate approval, the measure could be largely symbolic. The USAID official in Moscow said it was unlikely that his agency could spend the money more quickly.

Most of the U. S. and European Community aid is for technical assistance. The contracts to hire experts for those programs can take up to six months to gain approval.

One U. S. effort that has remained a question mark is the post-privatization program, which is designed to help newly privatized Russian enterprises. The $3 billion program, which the Clinton administration had touted in the spring as the cornerstone of its Russian assistance program, had the been the subject of intense negotiations between the Russians and the G-7 in the days before Yeltsin dissolved parliament.

The two sides reportedly disagree on the character of the program, with the Russians arguing for more flexibility with the money and the West moving slowly to ensure that the money is tied to specific programs.

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