Russia, facing the greatest crisis in its struggle to transform to a free-market economy, has hit a stone wall in efforts to get more money from the Western powers that had been its biggest backers.
White House officials, scrambling to rewrite the script for a problematic summit in Moscow next week, clearly indicated Friday that President Clinton will bring little immediate economic assistance to prop up either Russia's falling ruble or Boris N. Yeltsin, its weakened president.
Other leaders also are on the sidelines, watching anxiously as their own financial markets shake and wondering what options are left.
Yeltsin, for his part, emerged from seclusion Friday and insisted on nationwide television that he will serve out his full term as president but would not seek re-election in 2000.
But at the beginning of a weekend of crucial negotiations on an agreement to share power with the parliament, he appeared prepared to surrender some authority to win confirmation of Viktor S. Chernomyrdin as prime minister.
Washington and other Western capitals have been sending strong signals that Russia's problems can be resolved only by jump-starting its faltering program of economic reforms.
But Yeltsin's foes seem intent on pushing the country back toward Soviet-era government controls and away from the free-market reforms that they blame for producing nothing but misery.
And ending the era of leadership by his so-called "young reformers," Yeltsin dismissed the two top officials who had been most closely associated with his failed effort to overhaul the economy along Western lines.
The president fired Anatoly B. Chubais from his post as envoy to international lending institutions, and he accepted the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Boris Y. Nemtsov, once thought by some to be Yeltsin's heir-apparent.
The State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, is scheduled to vote Monday on confirming Chernomyrdin to organize a new government, although officials said the vote could be delayed until Tuesday to complete a political pact and a document on economic policy.
But Clinton is scheduled to arrive Tuesday for a summit meeting with the Russian president.
In a measure of the enormity of Russia's domestic crisis over the last few days, several Clinton administration officials have no idea with whom they will be meeting in Russia. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, will accompany Clinton. But their Russian counterparts lost their jobs when Yeltsin fired his Cabinet last weekend, and replacements have not yet been named.
Clinton ordinarily might welcome the distraction a foreign trip always provides from political problems at home.
But some in the White House had urged him to cancel the trip, fearful that an unpredictable Yeltsin might use the occasion to win domestic applause by blaming Russia's problems on the United States.
Friday, in a speech at Martha's Vineyard, Mass., commemorating the 35th anniversary of the historic civil rights March on Washington, Clinton defended the decision to keep his appointment in Moscow. Quoting Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., his host at the event, the president said, "I should go to Russia because, as John said, 'Anybody can come see you when you're doing well.' I should go there."
Presidential spokesman Michael D. McCurry suggested that Clinton could have a "direct impact on Yeltsin" at a critical time when the mercurial Russian leader appears to be out of touch.
"He is in the best position of anyone in the world -- except perhaps German Chancellor Helmut Kohl -- to get the right message through to Yeltsin: to stay with the reform program and don't flinch," McCurry said.
Clinton seemed to forecast that role Friday, saying that he planned to tell Russians that "if they'll be strong and do the disciplined, hard things they have to do to reform their country, their economy, and get through this dark night, that we'll stick with them."
In Russia's chaotic political and economic situation, analysts said, it would be foolhardy for the Clinton administration to push for additional financial support after lobbying so strongly for a $22.6 billion International Monetary Fund-led package in July.
And with Russia's economy in a free-fall, even that $22.6 billion has been called into question. IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus briefed the agency's executive board Friday on his meetings this week with Russian officials.
Speaking to reporters later, Camdessus left no doubt that Russia will not receive a $4.3 billion second installment of the loan on Sept. 15 unless the Russian parliament passes tough economic measures it has so far balked at approving.
In an obvious reference to the push by Yeltsin's opponents in the Russian parliament to move back to Soviet-style controls, Camdessus called such proposals a "populist scenario" that would lead to "dire social consequences," including hyperinflation.
But Russian parliamentary leaders are insisting on a package of Soviet-style measures as a condition for confirming Chernomyrdin, providing new ammunition to critics of Clinton's policies toward Russia.
Publisher Steve Forbes, a 1996 Republican presidential candidate, contended Clinton had "cynically turned a blind eye to the wholesale thievery by well-connected figures" of much of the Western aid.
Yeltsin's government, facing the collapse of the ruble and the disintegration of the banking system, has begun resorting to methods of state control practiced in Soviet times.
Having temporarily banned trading in major currency markets, the government has set the value of the ruble at an artificially high rate of less than eight to the dollar. However, at exchange offices around Moscow, the ruble was trading at between 10 and 14 to the dollar.
Uncertain what the ruble was actually worth, many stores that sell imported goods shut down to avoid ending up with stacks of rubles whose value would quickly evaporate. Others kept raising prices throughout the day Friday to try to keep pace with what they estimated the ruble was worth.
With banks running out of funds and freezing payments to their clients, many companies were unable to carry out their business. And on city streets, depositors crowded outside bank branches hoping to withdraw the dollars or rubles they had put in their savings accounts.
Many financial institutions were headed for bankruptcy, including insurance companies that invested heavily in high-interest, short-term treasury bonds that are now nearly worthless under a government plan to restructure its debts.