Russia to Bail Out Soviet Finances
After central state bank threatens to stop federal paychecks, Yeltsin steps in with credit
WITH the nation teetering precariously on the edge of bankruptcy, the head of the Soviet state bank decided to play a game of brinkmanship.Viktor Gerashchenko, chairman of Gosbank, said over the weekend there was not enough money in government coffers to meet Soviet budget requirements. The state bank stopped all cash transfers to the central budget, threatening to leave millions of citizens with no income. The move comes at the same time as the impending lifting of price controls promises to send the cost of living skyrocketing. In an effort to solve the crisis, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met with Mr. Gerashchenko on Saturday night in the Kremlin, the news agency Tass reported. After the meeting, Mr. Yeltsin said all sides had agreed on a so-called "consolidated budget of Russia and the union," adding that Russia would make unspecified concessions and had agreed to repay federal credits, Tass said. The Russian president also guaranteed that state employees would be paid in December. "We said in the very beginning that if any difficulties arise with the federal budget, Russia will finance the military, science, culture, and budget organizations," he said. In addition, Russia took control of the Soviet Ministry of Finance yesterday. Russian officials say the takeover was needed to protect Russia from the introduction of separate currencies by other republics. Gerashchenko announced the payment stoppage hours after the Soviet parliament refused to approve an additional credit to Gosbank of 90.5 billion rubles (almost $2 billion at the official exchange rate). State bank officials said the money was needed to meet central government expenses during the fourth quarter of 1991. "We reached the conclusion that the final limit of treasury resources permitted by the budget ... had run out," Gerashchenko told state television. The primary opposition to the credit came from Russia, which has been highly critical of the Kremlin's profligate spending practices. Russian Deputy Premier Yegor Gaidar equated the credit to writing a "blank check" to finance the other 11 Soviet republics at Russia's expense. Gerashchenko made no secret that he held Russia responsible for the budget crisis. In an apparent effort to bully Russia and the national legislature into complying with the state bank's financial wishes, Gerashchenko said only a decision from the Soviet parliament could reverse the state bank's course. He said a special parliament session to debate the budget problems should be moved up from Tuesday to today. The state bank had reserves of about 4.5 billion rubles on Nov. 16, Gerashchenko said, estimating that expenses in the two weeks since then were twice that. Revenue is sporadic with many republics either refusing to pay, or behind in their payments to the federal treasury, he added. Meanwhile, Mr. Gorbachev is refusing to give up efforts to revive the Soviet Union, which shattered in the wake of the failed August coup. Last week, Gorbachev suffered a defeat when the State Council refused to initial the latest draft of a union treaty. In an interview published on the eve of Sunday's independence vote in the Ukraine, the Soviet president called upon separatist-minded leaders of the country's second-largest republic to stay in the union. Opinion polls indicated an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians would vote for independence. Gorbachev has repeatedly said a new union wouldn't be viable without the Ukraine. "I am for self-determination within the union," Gorbachev said in an interview published by Tass. "We are already beginning to understand that somehow we kept putting things off and now we have to maintain our mutual action or face a break up which would cost us dearly."