Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 220

Various Russian officials and politicians have sharply criticized comments made over the weekend by outgoing International Monetary Fund Director Michel Camdessus, that the IMF might withhold further disbursals for Russia on the basis of the military campaign in Chechnya.

Camdessus, speaking at a conference in Madrid on November 27, said that while the Fund uses primarily economic criteria to determine whether to release funds, the IMF’s actions also depend on the support of the international community, and that the war in Chechnya “has given Russia a very negative image” internationally. “We cannot go forward with the financing if the rest of the world does not want to,” he said, adding that it was his wish that Russia find a solution to the Chechnya problem “more closely related to human rights” (Associated Press, Agence France Presse, November 27; Reuters, November 29). Russia was due to receive another US$640 million installment from a US$4.5 billion loan package earlier this autumn, but it has been held up.

Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said today: “We do not quite understand [the] statement by Michel Camdessus linking the IMF’s financial support for Russia and the antiterrorist operation which is being carried out.” Kasyanov added that there is “no basis whatsoever” for political concerns influencing the Fund’s decision (Russian agencies, November 29).

Several former top officials were less diplomatic. In an interview yesterday, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who during his tenure as government head dealt with Camdessus and reportedly developed a close relationship with the IMF director, described Camdessus’ statements as “strange and unclear.” Chernomyrdin noted that Russia continued to receive IMF credits during the 1994-1996 Chechen war.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, meanwhile, called Camdessus’ statement “political blackmail” and suggested that the IMF was being pressured, given that Camdessus has had a “very good attitude” toward Russia in the past (Russian agencies, November 28). While Stepashin has allied himself with the liberal Yabloko movement, his view of Camdessus’ comment was echoed by State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Seleznev said that Camdessus is not operating independently and was pressured to make the statement. The West, he added, “continues to exert pressure on Russia,” particularly in the wake of last week’s OSCE summit in Istanbul, during which Yeltsin insisted on the rightness of Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya (Russian agencies, November 29).

Camdessus, who recently announced that he will step down as IMF director next February, came under criticism from some quarters during the 1994-1996 Chechen war, for continuing to finance Russia. Asked during a February 1996 Moscow press conference to respond to charges that the IMF was in effect financing that war, Camdessus responded: “In some ways, yes, because we are financing Russia.” It is possible, therefore, that he is trying to make historical amends now that he is on his way out. In addition, he may be taking this stand knowing that Western governments, particularly Washington, will insist that the remaining IMF credits be released in any case. Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on November 24 that IMF and other international aid should not be linked to Russia’s behavior in Chechnya (Agence France Presse, November 27).

Camdessus’ demarche also may be connected to a recent statement made by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that an additional US$115 million will be added to the budget for the Chechen military operation (Russian agencies, November 24). In October, Camdessus warned that if Russia’s budget were to go “out of control” due to “an unwise increase in military spending,” the IMF would suspend its support (see the Monitor, October 29).

Just prior to Camdessus’ latest statement on Chechnya, Putin told a Russian newspaper that “certain political circles abroad are now tempted to make use of IMF credits to put pressure on Russia,” but added that “we do not think that this line will prevail” (Vek, November 26).