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Soviet-Style Economic Plan Mulled

October 1, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ The government convened today to discuss a plan that would prohibit Russians from buying U.S. dollars and other hard currencies and would greatly increase the number of rubles in circulation.

President Boris Yeltsin discussed the plan with a visiting regional governor, who proposed banning the free circulation of the dollar and introducing a so-called gold ruble, which would be tied to the country’s gold reserves.

The Russian government has allowed the U.S. dollar and other currencies to circulate freely since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia now has more dollars in its economy than any country besides the United States, according to U.S. officials.

It’s not yet clear if the new proposals will be approved. They are designed to help the government maintain its own hard currency reserves, and if implemented, would greatly restrict the flow of foreign currencies in the Russian economy.

Liberal economists have warned that such measures would inevitably spur the black currency market and could do even more damage to the crumbling Russian economy.

Opening a Cabinet session today, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said the government had already paid off some of its long-running wage debts, including $87 million owed to the military.

``Thus, we have solved our two-month debt on military salaries,″ he said, according to Russian news agencies.

Primakov also said the government today paid money to defense industry workers, sent subsidies to the ailing coal industry and allocated money in overdue students’ stipends.

He didn’t say where the government, which collected only half of the planned amount of taxes last month, had found the funds.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, met with Gov. Eduard Rossel of the Urals region of Sverdlovsk. The two men discussed Rossel’s plan for a ruble backed by gold reserves, but it was not clear whether the president favored the idea.

The economic plan under consideration by the Cabinet sets an ambitious spending program, including compensation to the poor for steep price rises and generous subsidies to stagnant Russian industries.

The blueprint, published today in the respected business daily Kommersant, gives no clue as to where the money would come from. The newspaper said the obvious answer would be printing new money, which would increase inflation.

Hoping to avoid the further fall of the ruble, the plan calls for tight currency controls. It would ban Russians from buying hard currency or taking more than $500 abroad.

It also envisages a greater government role in determining the ruble’s exchange rate. The government would take into account Russia’s balance of payments, the size of the Central Bank’s foreign exchange and gold reserves, and the inflation rate.

The Russian Central Bank’s reserves rose by $400 million in the third week of September, and stood at $12.4 billion on Sept. 25, the bank said today. No reason was given for the rise.

In order to prop up the ruble, the plan would also virtually ban commercial banks from hard currency speculation, oblige exporters to sell most of their hard-currency earnings at the government-controlled rate and shut loopholes allowing them to keep hard currency abroad.

The plan also calls for the nationalization of some Russian commercial banks and using their assets to provide credits to industries.

The document has been drafted by a group of economists led by Yuri Maslyukov, a Communist who is first deputy prime minister in charge of economic strategy.

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