• ACI Russia

08/13/1998 23:06:54 FOCUS-Yeltsin under pressure to end market crisis

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW, Aug 14 (Reuters) - A holidaying President Boris

Yeltsin visits the ancient city of Novgorod on Friday under

increasing pressure to restore the nerve of Russia's financial

markets after one of their blackest days in their short history.

Shares ended 6.5 percent down at levels not seen for two

years after initially falling up to 15 percent.

Moody's Investors Service cut the credit ratings of several

banks, Standard and Poor's reviewed the government's debt rating

and short-dated treasury bill yields soared as high as 210

percent as markets lost faith that a rouble devaluation could be


Yeltsin called Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko to tell him

to stick to an austerity programme which has so far failed to

soothe markets.

But Washington, fearing political instability in the world's

second nuclear power, put pressure on Moscow in unusually stern

language to do more as the crisis hit Wall Street shares.

"It's critical that the Russian government act quickly to

restore confidence in their economy, and that is something that

we have communicated directly with Russian officials," White

House spokesman Mike McCurry told a news briefing.

"The international community has a big stake in seeing that

Russia gets their economy moving in the right direction."

Asked if there was talk of unilateral action before

President Bill Clinton's Moscow summit next month, he said:

"Clearly...there's some work going on on that."

He confirmed that officials from the Group of Seven

industrialised countries had discussed Russia on Thursday and

said Treasury leaders were in touch with Moscow.

But McCurry declined to be drawn on whether additional cash

might be made available to Russia, which won a $23 billion

rescue deal from the International Monetary Fund last month, or

to comment on whether the rouble would have to be devalued.

Markets were shaken by a letter to the Financial Times from

international financier George Soros who called for the rouble

to be devalued and then pegged to the dollar.

"The meltdown in Russian financial markets has reached the

terminal phase," he wrote in what he said was a "wake-up call"

to industrialised nations about Russia's urgent need for help.

"This is Black Thursday for the Russian financial markets,"

ORT state-owned television said.

Kremlin officials said that even from holiday, Yeltsin, who

has been away since July 20 and is due back at his desk later

this month, was in control of all major developments.

Kiriyenko, installed by Yeltsin in March to take reforms in

hand, pledged to stick to his austerity programme and said he

saw no financial reason for the latest market crisis.

"Unfortunately what's happening on the markets belongs in

the realm of psychology," he told reporters.

The German Finance Ministry in Bonn said a restoration of

confidence depended on Kiriyenko keeping his word to raise

revenues and cut costs.

Kiriyenko said the IMF bail-out would allow his government

to meet its obligations this month and next.

The central bank on Thursday restricted some commercial

banks' access to hard currency to help steady the rouble and

extended new credit facilities to some banks to try to prevent

any payment default that could undermine the banking system.

A senior bank official said devaluation was not practical.

"A one-off devaluation of 15 to 25 percent would not solve a

single one of the problems facing the Russian government,"

central bank deputy chairman Denis Kiselyov told Reuters.

Yeltsin, for his part, will spend five hours on Friday in

Novgorod, 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Moscow and near his

current lakeland holiday retreat, talking to city officials and

visiting industrial and agricultural enterprises.

He has interrupted his holiday only once to return briefly

to Moscow to make preparations for what he said would be a "hot

political autumn".

Interfax news agency quoted local officials as saying

Yeltsin would announce the restoration of the city's old name,

Great Novgorod, dropped under communist rule.

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