- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has shown a firm commitment to seeing through economic reforms long advocated by Western governments and bankers, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jean Lemierre said in an interview.
In an interview late last week with The Washington Times, Mr. Lemierre said Russia in the past two years under Mr. Putin had improved its political and corporate governance while tackling corruption more seriously than at any other time since the downfall of the communist regime just over a decade ago.
"The EBRD welcomes the reform strategy being pursued" by the Russian government, Mr. Lemierre said. "This is because of the clear strategy President Putin has set for the country, and its decision to pay its international debt without going to the International Monetary Fund.
"However, the bank recognizes that implementation of the reform program, which is so important for building international confidence in Russia, will not be easy," he said.
Mr. Lemierre, 52, made it clear that the EBRD has learned some hard lessons during Russia's rocky first decade of capitalism, in which shocks such as the 1998 ruble collapse have burned outside investors.
"To put it bluntly, the bank has come to know a few people in Russia with whom it is best not to work," he said.
"We learned, too from the economic crisis in 1998, and we grew to understand how they do business. Yes, we have had some failures and we have lost some money, but one of our biggest assets now is the 10 years of experience we have in Russia and the region."
He said he hoped Western investors would heed his message that "this region is looking better and more stable than at any time in the recent past."
Founded in 1991, the London-based EBRD is helping Russia and its 26 former communist allies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia transform their once rigidly controlled planned economies into democratic, market-oriented societies.
The bank's biggest stakeholder is the U.S. government, with a 10 percent share. Other members of the Group of Seven industrial nations such as Britain, France and Japan hold shares of up to 8 percent.
The EBRD's investment for the region in the current fiscal year is $3.15 billion, by far the largest amount of which $718 million is invested in Russia.
Mr. Lemierre said Russia started much further back than many other former communist states, and its foreign investment record over the past decade has lagged behind countries such as Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia and Poland.
But given its handicaps, Russia under Mr. Putin has "the most impressive track record of all," Mr. Lemierre said. Mr. Putin's team has pushed through a series of reforms, lowering taxes, revamping social programs and easing regulations. Extensive banking and land-ownership laws are under consideration.

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