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Russia Faces Another Default

Russia will not be able to pay off $1.3 billion in Ministry of Finance bonds that mature next month, the latest sign of the country's worsening debt crisis, an official said Tuesday.

Russia already has defaulted on some domestic and foreign debt since an economic crisis hit last August, but it wanted to keep current on its Ministry of Finance bonds, known as MinFins.

"Unfortunately, as hard as we tried to accumulate money and stabilize the situation, we can't do this," First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told the Interfax news agency from London.

He said a formal announcement was expected later Tuesday or Wednesday.

The failure to make the payment will further erode confidence in Russia's recession-hit economy. An International Monetary Fund team is in Russia assessing the country's suitability for a new loan. The IMF has agreed in principle to give Russia the loan, but the size and the terms have not been announced.

Russia has foreign debts of around $150 billion. About $17.5 billion of that amount falls due this year, though the country has said it can only pay half that at most.

In addition, the country has sizable domestic debts, including the MinFins, which are classified as domestic debt though they are denominated in dollars. Russia has met all its previous MinFin payments.

The payment for the current batch of MinFins is not due until May 14, but there has been widespread speculation that the government would not be able to meet its obligations to bondholders, which include Russians and foreigners.

"Russia will probably have to begin negotiating this matter again with Russian and foreign holders of MinFin bonds," Kasyanov said.

Russia has been trying to encourage international lenders to return to the country to help revive an economy that's been slumping since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is one of the worst depressions ever suffered by an industrialized nation.

But the growing number of defaults has already scared away most lenders. Few analysts believe Russia will be able to pay debts accumulated during the Soviet era. Russia has tried to stay current on debt run up in the post-Soviet period.

The country's hard currency reserves are down to less than $11 billion, a small sum for a country of Russia's size and population.