World Bank, IMF Set Sights on Russia

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic Russia took center stage as World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund representatives outlined their objectives for the IMF/World Bank annual meetings beginning in Prague next week.

IMF and World Bank officials say their programs during the 1990s in Russia were intended to stabilize Russias economy.

But critics, some of whom will be protesting in Prague, say the organizations only contributed to the nations economic decline.

"It is disappointing, of course, there were so many lost opportunities [in Russia] in the last 11 years," Mats Karlsson, World Bank vice president for external affairs and United Nations affairs, said at a news conference Friday.

"But there is no use crying over spilt milk. You just have to go ahead," Karlsson said.

In order to realize its mission statement of "Our Dream is a World Free of Poverty," Karlsson said the World Bank plans to use the meetings from Tuesday to Sept. 28 to better understand poverty, and to build up national and global structures to improve conditions in poorer countries.

Karlsson said the banks programs would aim at reducing corruption, building public responsibility at the national level and working globally to support local initiatives. He said the bank intends to contribute to an international effort to develop an HIV vaccine to curb the devastation AIDS has wreaked in Africa.

The IMF describes its agenda as being to increase employment and living standards by bettering the economic welfare of its 182 member states by lending money, providing technical assistance, and constant surveillance of members situation.

Critics argue, however, that while economic growth would certainly help alleviate the pressures felt by the worlds poor, the organizations methods simply do not work.

"[The IMF and World Bank] say they want to alleviate poverty by increasing macroeconomic stability, and that is the kind of excuse they use for cutting social services," said Chelsea Mosen, press spokeswoman of Initiative Against Economic Globalization.

On Thursday, the Czech umbrella group of protesters began its countdown to the Global Day of Action, scheduled for Sept. 26, when it plans disrupt the meetings in a nonviolent matter.

Czech authorities have responded by saying any attempt to shut the conference down would not be tolerated, and many residents and observers anticipate violence such as that seen at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle last year and the IMF and World Bank meetings in April in Washington D.C.

Mosen said the lending organizations actions in Russia have contributed to the countrys economy shrinking by 40 percent as opposed to spurring growth.

"They are the ones who created the problem, and I dont have any faith that they are the ones who can fix it," Mosen said.

On Friday, the IMF executive board met to review the annual report on Russia compiled by the IMF.

Russia has one of 24 seats on the board and will be represented by executive director Alexei Mozhin. After reviewing the report Russia will present its summary of the discussion and will decide if the findings will be made available to the public.