Yet while Putin’s poll numbers and photo-ops remained golden, there was a growing feeling among some observers that he was skating on increasingly thin ice. The economy’s growth rate was already starting to slow down–a result, according to some experts, of the government’s failure to embark on genuine structural economic reform and of an increase in government spending. At the same time, it was clear to most observers that soaring world oil prices, which had allowed Russia to accumulate unprecedented hard currency reserves, could not persist indefinitely. Meanwhile, other related problems were not going away. Thus while Schroeder and Putin were all smiles during their public appearances in Moscow, the German chancellor’s visit was clouded by an argument over payments on Russia’s $48 billion Soviet-era debt. The row was sparked by Moscow’s announcement that it would not pay $1.5 billion owed to the Paris Club of creditors in the first quarter of this year, but would instead seek a debt rescheduling. Germany, which is owed $19 billion of the total debt to the Paris Club, threatened to suspend export credit guarantees if Russia did not pay in full.