Government Vows To Fulfill Liabilities Despite Possible Fall In Oil Prices

The approval of the 2002 budget draft by the State Duma on the third reading has doubled the government's optimism. Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin stated gladly that Russia would now have "the most stable forecast for development compared to other countries," and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promised at a meeting with reporters on December 1 that the government would fulfill all its liabilities even if oil prices drop to $12 per barrel. Nonetheless, despite the increased 'firmness' of the budget, Russia still intends to strive for a 'fair' price for its oil: oil companies should agree on the volume of a reduction in the oil exports in the first quarter of next year at a meeting with the Prime Minister next week. Kasyanov refused to give the exact figures, remarking that the decision is to be made not by the government but by the companies themselves. At any rate, Russia will take into account only its own interests but not recommendations by OPEC, which it does not belong to. Russia is interested in the oil price of $20-25 per barrel, and since according to Kasyanov, the supply currently exceeds the demand, there is potential for a deeper reduction in exports. Nonetheless, even if 'fairness,' as Russia understands it, is not achieved on the oil market, it will not be a disaster for the economy. Changes made in the budget draft before the third reading give the government grounds for a financial maneuver worth 120 billion rubles (about $4 billion). It is a matter of 68 billion rubles (about $2.3 billion) in conditional expenditures (financing of some budget expenditures will be reduced by this sum if the oil price falls to $14 per barrel), as well as the balance at the accounts of the Federal Treasury left for next year, the Izvestia newspaper wrote.