Robert M. Birkenes, USAID/PPC/CDIE/DIO/ESDS John A. Pennell, USAID/PPC/CDIE/DIO/RRS
June 4, 1999
Introduction: Scope and Purpose of Paper On 17 August 1998, the Russian government defaulted on its GKO Treasury Bonds, imposed a 90-day moratorium on foreign debt payments, and abandoned the ruble exchange rate corridor. Within the next couple of weeks, the Russian Central Bank announced that it would stop selling U.S. dollars, suspend trading of the ruble on main exchanges, abandon the exchange rate band, and allow the ruble to float. These events led Russia’s international reserves to fall by $13.5 billion and to the dissolution of the Kiriyenko government. One month later, Standard and Poor’s downgraded its rating of the Russian ruble to “CCC,” the lowest possible Standard and Poor’s rating, for its long-term outlook and “C” for short-term outlook. These events signaled the onset of the Russian financial crisis, which had its roots in the fundamental problems in the Russian economy but was triggered in part by the continuing financial crises in emerging markets in Asia and around the world. What were the causes of this crisis and near financial collapse? What are the so-called “experts” saying about the crisis and its spillover effects on other ENI countries? What are the possible courses of action that could minimize the adverse effects of the crisis and reduce the likelihood of future occurrences? The purpose of this paper is to summarize the divergent viewpoints expressed by leading scholars and practitioners in the field of international development and finance. By surveying the literature, it is apparent that the Russian crisis, and to some extent the Asian crisis that preceded it, was caused by a combination of internal structural problems in the domestic economy (especially in the banking and fiscal systems) and growing problems with the international financial system that permits excessively rapid outflows of capital. However, there is significant divergence of opinion among scholars and practitioners as to which set of factors, those related to the Russian economy or those related to the international financial system, are the cause of the crisis. In addition to the differences of opinion as to the causes of the crisis, disagreement exists as to the remedies to the crisis. As a result, each group has recommended its own set of policy prescriptions. The first section of this paper discusses the divergent opinions on the causes of the crisis. The second section highlights the economic, social, and political effects of the crisis. The third section provides a list of the proposed remedies offered by the divergent camps. The final section summarizes the main findings and includes a timeline of the Asian and Russian crises. Divergent Opinions: Causes of the Russian and Global Financial Crises The divergent views regarding the causes and cures of the Russian and Asian financial crises can be broken down into two camps: (1) those that believe that the crises derived primarily from problems in the international financial system and (2) those that place blame primarily on the structural problems within the countries themselves which left them vulnerable to capital flight and other problems arising from external financial instabilities. Members of the first group tend to be critical of the IMF and other international financial institutions, saying that these institutions played a role in creating and exacerbating the
financial crises rather than helping to reduce the negative impact, although the “fix the system” critics do agree that each of the crisis countries did suffer from internal structural problems as well. The second group of analysts—the “fix the countries” group—believes that the international financial system and the approach of the IMF in assisting these countries are more or less working, and that the current crises derived from a...