Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will be in Washington next week for talks with the International Monetary Fund and the United States government.

The IMF talks are approaching a critical point. Four billion dollars in service on foreign-currency debt, some of it held by Russians, will fall due in May. By April 30, commercial-bank creditors are supposed to respond to Russia’s nickel-on-the-dollar offer for redemption of ruble-denominated treasury bills (GKOs). And the Central Bank last week recommended spending 25 billion rubles–about a billion dollars–to resuscitate three large failed banks, SBS-Agro, Promstroibank and Rossiisky Kredit.

Russia has been under an IMF program continuously since 1993, yet the country’s financial condition could hardly be worse. The Fund has been conned (as former negotiator Anatoly Chubais boasted), vilified (by Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, among others) and ripped off (by the Central Bank, which surreptitiously moved reserves to an offshore subsidiary to avoid an honest accounting). That the IMF could consider for thirty consecutive seconds lending more money to Russia is a tribute to the inertia of Western policy and to the fear that if this Russian government collapses, what follows will be worse.