Baker, Peter; Glasser, Susan B.
September 2003
New Republic;9/1/2003, Vol. 229 Issue 9, p10
Fueled by oil money, the Russian economy is growing by a robust seven percent in 2003, capping five years of growth. The trade balance is up, and the stock index soared from 277 points at the beginning of 2002 to a five-year high of 528. Prosperity is a terrible incubator for structural change. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised market-oriented reforms, but they have been hindered by the lack of urgency that comes with $29-per-barrel oil. The government made little headway on developing a modern banking system, overhauling gas or electricity monopolies, or fighting corruption, nor does it look like it will before parliamentary elections in December 2003 and the presidential election the next March. Despite its stalling on reforms, Putin's Russia is still running a budget surplus and has paid off much of its foreign debt, and Central Bank reserves stand at $64 billion. Putin's desire to show empathy for the poor may help explain his government's campaign against Russia's richest man, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Taking on oligarchs like Khodorkovsky is good politics in a campaign season--yet busting Yukos may scare foreign investors by making Russia's rule of law seem arbitrary, and it does little to promote reform.


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