Bailout Funds to Be Paid Out Next Week

The government said Thursday that it would begin distributing money from a multibillion-dollar bailout early next week to help the country's real economy weather the global credit crunch.

A month to the day after the start of the financial crisis, President Dmitry Medvedev called on senior officials to do their utmost to shield businesses from the liquidity crunch.

"Our task today is to do everything in our power for the stable development of all sectors of our economy, I mean industry, agriculture, transportation, construction and trade," Medvedev told a meeting of top government officials and bankers at his Gorky residence outside Moscow. "Efficient enterprises and private entrepreneurs shouldn't experience financial hunger," he said in comments released by the Kremlin.

The government has pledged to allocate some $200 billion in loans and tax cuts, among other measures, to help companies and banks deal with the worst financial crisis since 1998. That package includes $50 billion to state-owned Vneshekonombank to help companies refinance foreign debt. Analysts have said that while the government would mainly help state-owned companies in industries such as oil and gas, metals and fertilizers, companies in sectors such as retail and real estate, as well as smaller firms, were at risk.

Speaking at Thursday's meeting, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the funds would be available early next week and the issue of "compensation for liquidity that's leaving our markets" would be decided "once and for all."

"We'll have enough funds to credit and support the real economy," Kudrin said.

Economists warned that the government's financial package should come without delay if it genuinely wanted to stave off the crisis.

So far, there is "no evidence that the government's promised market support is forthcoming," Uralsib said in a note to clients Thursday.

Medvedev called on the government to put special focus on the country's defense industry as Russia didn't "have the right to lose" it in a time of crisis.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said the sector had begun feeling the squeeze and "concrete proposals" had been made to support it. He did not elaborate.

Russian automakers have also been promised support this week. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin on Wednesday pledged access to financing at a meeting with the country's leading automakers in Tolyatti, the hometown of the country's top carmaker AvtoVAZ.

Thursday marked the one-month anniversary since the global financial meltdown dealt a blow to the local markets, said the Bank of Moscow, pegging the start of the local crisis to the stock plunge that led to problems at the inter-bank bond repo market.

Medvedev's comments on Thursday followed a call on the government by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier this week to make sure that companies receive the financial aid that is being earmarked for them, addressing concerns that the money may not reach its intended recipients quickly enough, or at all.