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IN ANOTHER MILESTONE ON THE INCREASINGLY bumpy road to capitalism, Russia and most of the other former Soviet republics were formally offered membership in the world’s two major financial organizations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The step has symbolic importance: fueled by cold war animosities, the Soviet Union never joined the global bodies, formed by the Western powers at the Bretton Woods monetary conference in 1944. But last week’s move has immediate practical implications as well. It will trigger the release of much of the $24 billion in aid that has been pledged by the major industrialized nations to help the former Soviets convert to a free-market economy.

The money, however, will not come without strings. In return for the funds, the IMF has called on the republics to institute major economic reforms. Yegor T. Gaidar, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister and chief economic representative, said recognition by the world economic bodies will help speed his country’s transition to a market economy. Back home, however, President Boris Yeltsin was trying to assuage fears that Russia is giving up much of its economic independence. “We don’t fully agree with the opinions of the IMF,” he said, “and we will defend our point of view.”

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