Russia could freeze external debt payments as anti-sanctions measure

12:49, 23 December 2014
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Member of Russian State Duma Committee on Budget and Taxes Yevgeniy Fiodorov has prepared amendments to the Civil Code providing for the freezing of Russian debt servicing in relation to "aggressor countries", namely, the European Union and the United States, according to Russian newspaper Izvestia.

Photo from progorodsamara.ru

According to the deputy, Russia should resume payments on debts owed to those countries only when sanctions against Russia are lifted. The bill was sent for consideration of the government, according to the author of the document.

Experts say such an intentional default on the background of force majeure circumstances may be viewed as retaliatory sanction. Artificial default by Russia is possible, but it will only aggravate the situation, experts say.

According to Russia’s central bank, as of October 1, 2014, Russia’s external debt totaled $678.4 billion, the lowest figure for at least half a year. The sum includes the national debt of $48.3 billion, the banking sector debt of $192 billion, central bank borrowing of $15.7 billion, and $422.4 billion from other sectors.

 According to Izvestia, having imposed sanctions, the United States and the European Union have artificially created force majeure circumstances for Russia - now Russian companies have to pay twice as much because of rising exchange rates.

In 2014, the ruble against the dollar and euro has experienced the steepest decline since Russia’s 1998 credit default, although it is believed that the ruble collapse on December 16 was provoked by international currency speculators. This year ruble sank by 81% against dollar, and by 61% against the euro.

Professor of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), leading researcher of IMEMO Alexei Portansky told the newspaper that he believes that a freezing of foreign debts repayment is possible.

"For example, Malaysia and Southeast Asia also resorted to such measures in the period of economic hardships, [and] the decision was made at the level of government,” said Portansky.

“That is, we will not be pioneers in this case."

According to a member of the board of ACG Business Profile, Armen Danielian, freezing the foreign debt, particularly with regard to the countries that are in confrontation with Russia, is possible, but it is an extreme economic measure, and it could be considered only when all other mechanisms were exhausted.

"The effects of freezing, as well as the consequences of default, although they could ease the pressure on ruble for some time, have a long-term adverse effect on the economy of the country,” Danielian said.

“A similar example is the default on the national debt that occurred on August 17, 1998. At that time, international rating agencies downgraded Russia’s rating, which led to a substantial increase in foreign borrowing costs, the sale of Russian assets, and capital flight. Therefore, in my opinion, the freezing of debt in the current situation will only worsen the problems of the Russian economy."

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