When Prime Minister Primakov sent the draft budget to the parliament last December, he threatened to resign if it did not pass. On Friday the 450-member Duma gave the budget its final approval, by a vote of 308-58. Approval in the upper house, Russia’s Federation Council, is expected in the next two weeks. The budget calls for revenues of 474 billion rubles (about US$22 billion) and outlays of 575 billion rubles (about $27 billion). The budget has some big assumptions: a rescheduling of foreign debt, a resumption of international lending, an exchange rate of 21.45 rubles to the dollar and inflation of 30 percent. How did the economist escape from the pit? He assumed a ladder.


Y2K: The chairman of Russia’s Central Telecommunications Commission says killing the millennium bug will cost about $3 billion. Oil and gas pipelines and nuclear facilities are especially vulnerable, a fact which has caught the West’s attention. About a third of Europe’s natural gas flows through Russian pipelines, and no one wants another Chernobyl. Experts from the Pentagon will visit Russia February 10-12 to look at nuclear control problems.

Hook and crook: Ex-Minister of Justice Valentin Kovalev lost that job in 1997, when a tabloid published video stills of him sweating lustily with a couple of hookers in a mob-run sauna. Last week Kovalev was arrested for having embezzled $50,000 from the “Public Fund for the Protection of the Population’s Civil Rights,” an organization he created while minister and apparently used to launder money for banks eager to send their profits to Cyprus.

Getting along: A new U.S. study, based on interviews with Russian managers, finds that Russian businesses rely generally on negotiation, rarely on the courts, and hardly ever on “private enforcement” to ensure that contracts are fulfilled. The study concludes that the connection between the rise of the Russian mafia and the ineffectiveness of law has been widely exaggerated. The study, available on the Internet, is “Law, Relationships and Private Enterprise: Transactional Strategies of Russian Enterprises” by Kathryn Hendley, Peter Murrell and Randi Ryterman.