The Soviet Union, seeking foreign aid to help save its economy from collapse, is moving closer to joining what it once regarded as a tool of "Western imperialism" - the International Monetary Fund.

A 15-man Soviet delegation is attending the annual meeting of the IMF and another global lending agency, the World Bank, in Washington. Many Western diplomats see the Soviets' presence at the meeting as the first step toward eventual membership.Such a move is strongly recommended in a radical Soviet economic reform plan, currently being debated by the country's parliament. It is likely to be adopted this month despite a rival government program.

The plan, drawn up by economist Stanislav Shatalin and backed by President Mikhail Gorbachev, calls for efforts to attract foreign capital and secure long-term credit at preferential rates.