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Russia: Piling high to meet the quota

Russian privatization has been rapid and controversial. Transfers to banks of stakes in the country's largest businesses have sparked a furious debate about the terms of the deals and whether or not the banks are improving management. But instead of changing tack, the government has been pushing ahead before the political climate changes. Vindicating its quick approach has been the much quieter and more successful sell-off of thousands of smaller companies.

Last month, Russian president Boris Yeltsin sacked deputy prime minister and leading reformer Anatoly Chubais. The immediate dispute was over Chubais's rigorous approach to macroeconomic stabilization: the project to which he and his aides have devoted themselves in recent months. But Chubais's greater legacy to Russia is the privatization programme he masterminded, one of the largest and most controversial anywhere in the world. Arguments over its merits and faults will run and run.

If volume were the only measure of success, Russia's reformers would have a record to be proud of - they privatized 15,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in two years from mid-1992 to mid-1994 before turning their attention to larger companies last year. But those deals have generally raised no money for the companies and precious little for the state. They have simply transferred ownership from the state to a shadowy group of new owners: old company managers, banks and Russian entrepreneurs. "The first stage of the privatization process was never intended to raise money. It was a legal form of bribery, designed to involve everyone from company managers to the general public," says Roger Gale, resident representative of the IFC in Moscow.

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