An IMF delegation will fly to Moscow on April 7 to hammer out the details of an agreement signed last week between the fund and the Russian government. Russian officials touted the arrangement, but its points remain mired in vagueness.
First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Masliukov said March 31 that Russia would prepare an economic plan to help convince the International Monetary Fund to give the country a new loan next month.
To merit payment of new loan tranches, Russia will have to follow guidelines that the mission due in Moscow this week will finalize.
The plan will then be submitted to the IMF's Washington headquarters for approval to become the foundation for further financial aid.
Endorsement would allow Russia to go ahead with negotiations on restructuring foreign debt, Masliukov - Russia's economy chief - added, speaking at a news conference.
He said informal talks had already begun to lower Russia's debt burden.
Negotiations between Russia and the IMF were originally to take place in Washington two weeks ago, but were postponed after Prime Minister Evgenii Primakov suddenly canceled his visit to protest NATO air strikes against Serb targets in Yugoslavia.
But in an effort to dispel controversy and separate the West's political and economic objectives, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus flew to Moscow on March 29 and signed a communique on cooperation with Primakov.
The fund has seemingly backed down over its insistence on an increased primary budget surplus and other major issues.
But although Primakov announced that the IMF would resume its lending to Russia, many details of the agreement, including the volume and timing of the credit as well as details of the government's plan, are due to be finalized when the IMF mission comes to Moscow this week.
An IMF spokesman in Washington said no agreement had been reached so far on the details of any new program or loan.
"We have reached an agreement on a broad framework for the Russian economic program," he said, according to Reuters. "But details still must be filled in. Contrary to some press reports, there is no agreement on amounts."
The IMF's first deputy managing director, Stanley Fischer, also said last week that Russia must take action before getting more IMF money.
Russia owes the IMF $4.6 billion this summer. Masliukov said that that debt would constitute the basis for negotiations on the amount of credit the IMF would give Russia. Martin Gilman, the IMF's Moscow representative, said, however, that talks would center on the figure of $2.7 billion.
An agreement with the IMF would open the door to official negotiations with the Paris Club of sovereign creditors and the London Club of commercial lenders on restructuring Soviet-era debts, a $100 billion debt burden.
Masliukov reconfirmed that Russia wanted to begin talks by asking creditors for a 75 percent debt write-off.
Meanwhile, the World Bank announced last week that the IMF agreement would open the way for president James Wolfensohn to visit Moscow on April 14 to try to agree on new terms for the release of a 1.2-billion-dollar tranche from a previously-approved loan frozen after last August.
But Russia's seeming triumph in getting the IMF to admit it would give credits was overshadowed by the vagueness of the agreement with the fund and the evasive answers Camdessus gave Russian reporters during his visit.
It is most likely that the IMF will grant the smallest amount of credit possible, allowing Russia to avoid default on its sovereign debt.
A new loan will be seen as a concession to Russia in light of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia over its troubled Kosovo province.
The IMF had long insisted on a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product instead of the 1.64 percent in the 1999 document.
On March 29, the IMF agreed to 2 percent.
Although analysts have doubted that Russia would be able to meet the lower figure, Russian economists have said that inflation and rises in oil prices might allow Russia to make up the difference.
The IMF also apparently failed to win ground on other points, including its demand that Russia squeeze more taxes from its energy sector, especially Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems.
The government did pledge, however, to raise 60 billion rubles in new revenues, partly by delaying a cut in Russia's value-added tax. The fund had protested the tax cut, saying VAT was one of the few taxes Russia was able to collect in full.
But Russian hopes of an $8 billion tranche - brought up by several Russian officials, including former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin - seem out of the question.
The IMF is unlikely to want Russia to accrue more debt to it in addition to the $19.3 billion it already owes. The fund will therefore most likely refuse new loans as long as possible as Russia pays off its debts in small amounts.
President Boris Yeltsin, speaking for the first time in a long while on the IMF issue, said March 30 that Russia's 1999 budget was unrealistic and that the country's debts must be rescheduled.
The 1999 draft budget provides for payment of only $9.5 billion of the 17.5 billion in loans and interest maturing this year.
The IMF froze its Russian assistance program following the financial crisis that began last August after an effective ruble devaluation and internal debt market freeze.
But as IMF talks continue this week, the Russian economy continues to stagger under the country's ongoing economic crisis. According to optimistic predictions, the government will collect only 84.7 billion rubles in revenues in the first quarter of the year, 30 percent less than envisioned in the budget, which calls for revenues of 473.7 billion rubles this year.
Meanwhile, Russia's key industries reported a 6.1-percent drop in output in the first two months of the year from the same period last year, the State Statistics Committee reported March 30.