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Russia goes for Czech

Russia is heading for a clash with the West after making an unexpected request for a new candidate to take over as head of the International Monetary Fund.

It said it is backing former Czech prime minister Josef Tosovsky to succeed managing director Rodrigo de Rato at the Washington-based institution. The move is a surprise, as most insiders had assumed the position would go to former French finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was the European Union candidate and, until yesterday, the only nominee. Tosovsky’s chances of victory are slim, since both Europe and the US, who between them hold over 50pc of the voting rights, are thought to be supporting his rival. Ironically, the Czech Republic, whose central bank was also at one stage headed by Tosovsky, is also among those backing Strauss-Khan. But Russia’s finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, said Tosovsky had the right credentials for the job. “Given the IMF’s failures in resolving the crises in a number of countries, the IMF needs to raise its prestige,” he said.

Traditionally, the IMF managing director is selected by European countries while the US chooses the World Bank president. Nominating Strauss-Khan has caused some controversy in Europe and beyond, since some had hoped to extend the eligible candidates to beyond the EU. Barely days after taking over as Chancellor, Alistair Darling told a Brussels press conference that he would have preferred a more open process, saying: “We don’t believe a situation where it’s assumed a European candidate [will get the job] is sustainable. All IMF members should be able to put forward candidates.” However, amid suspicions that the French and German administrations had already pushed through the decision on the EU’s behalf, he was later forced to backtrack and say the UK would back Strauss-Kahn.

Russia has already clashed with the EU over a proposed US anti-missile system, which may be based in the Czech Republic and Poland, and has stepped up military flights. It is also hinting at plans to lay claim to oil reserves in the Arctic circle. Russia has also clashed with the UK government over requests to extradite former KGB intelligence agent Andrei Lugovoi in connection with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. (