The Corner

ROUBLE CONVERTIBILITY

While, like Iain , I’m an admirer of the work of Andrei Illarianov, Putin’s former free market guru (and I agree with much of his criticism of what Putin has been doing), it is worth noting that Russia’s meandering progress towards a true free market economy is continuing. The Guardian has some of the details: “For years it was the changeable currency of defaults, declines and dodgy wheeler-dealing. But the Russian rouble, riding high on Moscow’s burgeoning status as an energy superpower, becomes fully convertible from today as the petrodollar giant unleashes on the world a currency to match its growing economic clout. The move, which will take practical effect when markets open on Monday, follows a series of measures and statements by the Kremlin that show its desire for the currency’s renewed international status…The rouble’s convertibility will lessen the government’s ability to influence the 800-year-old currency’s exchange rate, said Alexei Moisseev, of Renaissance Capital bank. He said the infrastructure would not yet allow Russians to exchange their roubles for euros abroad but the move was a “PR event” for the Russian economy. “A practical consequence will be a significant increase in overseas investment into Russian rouble securities,” he said…The rouble has strengthened since 2001 from 32 to the dollar to 26.5 today. It is expected to rise to 25 by the end of the year.” Yes, a strong oil price has undoubtedly been key to this progress (and there’s no doubt that some of Putin’s measures have meant that the country’s oil infrastructure is not receiving the investment it should), but progress there still has been. And no, none of this should be seen as a defense of all that Putin has been doing (far from it, as I’ve repeatedly argued, much of it has been wrong-headed, and worse, much worse), but it should be seen as further evidence of the fact that (in times when the Iranian threat grows progressively more dangerous) the new Russia, for all its many faults, is a potential ally to be courted (there’s plenty of shared strategic value that Russia and the US can offer each other), not a locked-in-place adversary to be insulted.

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