MOSCOW -- Russia's Banks Association, which represents 820 of the country's 2,220 financial institutions, has called for a continuation of limitations placed on foreign banks, saying the market is not ready to compete with Western rivals.

"We need a time-out to create a proper banking system in Russia," said Sergei Yegorov, the president of the association. "Foreign banks are rich and strong. They have 100 to 300 years of history and capital far bigger than ours."

Mr. Yegorov's comments come in reaction to statements from Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko that indicated the bank and the government were working to ease restrictions on foreign banks imposed in November by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The restrictions, designed to appease Russia's strong anti-Western banking lobby, froze new foreign bank entry into Russia until 1996 and imposed offshore status for foreign banks already licensed in Russia.

Gerashchenko said the foreign bank limitations would be removed by June 8.

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