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Russia Mail Derailed; P.O. In Debt

October 5, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ Many of Russia’s railways have stopped carrying mail because the post office isn’t paying its bills, stranding hundreds of rail cars around the country stuffed with letters and packages.

The post office owes the railways about $13 million, said Valery Zudin, a spokesman for the Railways Ministry. Many of the country’s 17 railways are refusing to carry mail until the post office pays up.

The problem is part of the overall crisis in Russia, where a tangled web of non-payment of bills and wages has all but paralyzed the economy. The government is the largest debtor, failing to pay wages and pensions to millions of Russians or for goods and services.

Russians rely heavily on mail as their main method of communication, especially in far-flung regions where there are few telephones. Few Russian TV networks broadcast throughout the country, so people also depend on newspapers delivered by mail for news.

The Railways Ministry also accuses the post office of carrying commercial cargo in mail cars, charging customers commercial rates while paying the railways the special cheap rates set for mail delivery _ then pocketing the difference.

``We don’t believe the post office’s claim they lack cash to pay us,″ Zudin said in an interview.

``We wouldn’t complain if they only carried mail, but they are involved in commerce. They carry vodka and cigarettes in mail cars.″

The post office, which is chronically in debt, says it is owed money by the government and others. It refused to give any figures on its revenue or debt.

Officials at the Railways Ministry were also unable to cite the total amount of money owed to them, or their debt to the government.

``It’s too complicated,″ Zudin said. ``In some cases, our customers, like the military, fail to pay us for carrying their goods, but we are still supposed to pay taxes for that income we never got.″

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