As Hong Kong was strengthening its currency board yesterday, political leaders in Moscow were continuing to tout the introduction of a similar system in Russia as a miracle cure for the country's rapid economic collapse. Acting Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, whose appointment is still being blocked by angry parliamentarians, hinted he wanted to see a currency board eventually put in place, while his deputy, reformist Boris Fyodorov portrayed it as a central plank of a plan for economic recovery. But Russian central bank chief Sergei Dubinin was more cautious, warning that the introduction of such a system would require considerable political will, while the International Monetary Fund was downright scathing about the idea. And with good reason. For the currency board now being contemplated by Moscow would surprise those used to the rigours imposed by its Hong Kong counterpart. Mr Chernomyrdin wants to precede its introduction by printing huge quantities of money to pay off past debts, which will only fuel inflation that has already reached an annual rate of 2,000 per cent. Nor is it clear how the funds needed to support a currency board would be found (until recently, Hong Kong had enough to back up all currency in circulation eight times over). Russia's foreign reserves are almost exhausted and the West would be unlikely to help. Acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov cryptically referred to an unspecified method by which the foreign reserves could be replenished without foreign help, but refused to elaborate. That only illustrates the Alice in Wonderland nature of this proposal. Just as former Indonesian president Suharto toyed with the idea of a currency board that had no realistic prospect of implementation, so Russia is now doing the same in a desperate attempt to boost confidence and distract attention from the horrors of daily living. With food running short amid signs of hoarding, and lengthening queues outside banks, the country is on the brink of an abyss. President Boris Yeltsin is in no fit state to govern, while other politicians are more interested in bickering and jockeying for power than in rescuing the economy from collapse. While a currency board might seem like an easy panacea for a country in such desperate straits, it is no solution for an economy as weak as Russia's.