Russian Savers Get a Symbolic Break on Losses : Inflation: With prices soaring 234-fold, they’ll receive only three times the number of rubles they had on deposit in 1992.


President Boris N. Yeltsin has signed a decree aimed at compensating Russians for savings wiped out by the raging inflation of the last two years, Russian television announced Tuesday.

But the measure will be little more than symbolic, and ordinary Russians seemed to react with bitterness, not gratitude.

Depositors will receive three times the number of rubles they had in accounts in the Russian Savings Bank on Jan. 1, 1992, when prices were decontrolled. But prices have risen about 234-fold since.


This means a person who in 1992 lost 450 rubles--then the price of a washing machine--will get 1,350 rubles, which is not enough to buy a gallon of milk today.

The populist compensation measure, long demanded by conservatives and Communists, will cost about $705 million. A government spokesman said the sum may not satisfy everyone, but it is all the government can afford without dangerously increasing inflation.

Several new economic reports released Tuesday, Yeltsin’s 63rd birthday, show the Russian economy continuing its fast downward slide. Industrial production fell 25% in January compared with the same month last year, the Russian State Statistics Committee reported. And the ruble plunged sharply as fears that new government spending will worsen inflation spurred another rush to buy dollars.

At the United Nations, an agency released the first comprehensive survey of unemployment in Russia, showing a real jobless rate of at least 15% and predicting an even sharper rise.

The official Russian unemployment rate is between 1.5% and 2%. Only a fraction of the jobless even bother to register themselves as unemployed, because their monthly benefit is less than $7. Most have no reserves to fall back on, after 2,600% inflation in 1992 evaporated their life savings overnight.

Yeltsin’s decree was apparently intended to give at least moral compensation for the losses, if not to soothe the economic pain that led to the stunning defeat of “shock therapist” reformers in December parliamentary elections.


But the indignant and bitter reaction Tuesday evening indicates that rather than appease people who lost their life savings, the paltry restitution may instead only remind them of how much they have lost.

“I had 10,000 rubles in my savings account. I could easily have bought a car,” said Leonid Y. Koshelev, a 43-year-old army officer. In late 1990, a mid-size Russian-made Zhiguli cost about 8,000 rubles--and Koshelev was near the top of the long waiting list to get one. But by the time his turn came, it was March, 1992, inflation was running 2,600% a year, and Koshelev’s rubles would no longer pay for the car he had saved to buy.

The decree states that pensioners and invalids may collect their compensation beginning Tuesday, but others will have to wait until July 1, by which time inflation will probably have eaten away still more of its value.

Koshelev will qualify for 30,000 rubles, worth $19.23 after Tuesday’s plunge in the ruble.

“What can I do now with 30,000 rubles that I still have to wait six months to get?” Koshelev said. “I doubt I will be able to fill up my old car three times with that. This is all . . . hot air. It is simply rubbish.”

Two economists who support Yeltsin predicted the decree would generate nothing but “indignation and irritation,” as one of them, Pavel G. Bunich, put it. “People will line up, collect their money and say they have been tricked,” Bunich said.

Economist Vasily I. Selyunin, who won a seat in Parliament in December on a pro-Yeltsin ticket, called the president’s new decree “costly and stupid.”


“It will make people even angrier, and play into the hands of Communists, Agrarians and even (extremist Vladimir V.) Zhirinovsky,” Selyunin said.

In a bureaucratic twist, Yeltsin signed the decree Dec. 24 but for unexplained reasons it was not published until Jan. 29, when it appeared in the Rossiskaya Gazeta newspaper. The paper has a small circulation, and the decree went unnoticed by the rest of the Russian media until Tuesday.

Yeltsin first promised to index savings while campaigning for an April, 1993, referendum, but after the election he backed off from the pledge his advisers opposed as costly and inflationary.

But Communists and nationalists continued to raise the issue and used it as an example of what they said was the government’s disregard for the welfare of the people and of Yeltsin’s own broken promises.

For at least one voter, the promised restitution does put the issue to rest.

“It is small, but at least it is something,” said Aza G. Perfilieva, 70, who will receive $7.69. “They could have given us nothing, and we would not have complained.”

Staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington and Sergei Loiko of The Times’ Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.