print-icon
print-icon

US Set To Block Russian Debt Payments, Pushing Moscow Closer To Historic Default

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 09:25 PM

The latest attempt at inflicting maximum punishment and pressure on Russia amid its grinding war in Ukraine has many scratching their heads, as the US is now set to block Moscow's ability to pay its sovereign debt - though ironically which Russia appears ready and willing to pay, if it weren't for the far reaching US-led sanctions imposed on its central financial institutions in the first place. 

A key US Treasury waiver which provided an exemption for transactions involving Russia's finance ministry, central bank and national wealth fund in instances where US bondholders are paid is set to expire according to schedule on May 25, and the Biden administration is reportedly strongly mulling not renewing it.

A senior administration official said that while "It's under consideration" a final decision has yet to be reached. "We are looking at all options to increase pressure on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin."

Bloomberg reported Tuesday, however, that the US Treasury is going to let the waiver expire, citing people familiar with administration deliberations. That waiver previously issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control made exceptions for transacting with sanctioned Russian entities for the purposes of "the receipt of interest, dividend, or maturity payments in connection with debt or equity."

"The waiver, issued shortly after the US levied sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine in February, has given Moscow room to keep paying investors, helping it avert default on its government debt," Bloomberg points out.

And yet there's reportedly significant internal dissent against such a drastic plan as letting the waiver expire on fears that such a policy would only prove counterproductive to Washington interests. "Some Treasury officials had privately argued that allowing Russia to pay its debt would further drain its coffers and redirect resources that would otherwise be spent on weapons and military operations in Ukraine," the report says. "But the administration has decided against extending the waiver as a way to maintain financial pressure on Moscow, the people said."

The perhaps bizarre and unprecedented aspect to the US plan is that Russia appears perfectly willing to pay its foreign investors, but has argued that it of course can't do that in dollars because of the very sanctions in place led by Western creditors, in a circular catch-22. Or put another obvious way: can it really be "default" if your creditor refuses to take your money?

Upon the waiver's May 25th expiration, it is estimated that Russia will still have about $2 billion in external sovereign bond payments it must meet by close of the year.

Moscow's reaction of late has been to sharpen its tone in its financial wrestling with the West. Instead of pushing for a default in response to the barrage of western sanctions, Russia's view is the opposite and even though Moscow has said it won't be accessing the international bond market this year due to exorbitant debt prices, the country has not actually been seeking to default. On the contrary, a month ago Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper that Russia will take legal action if the West tries to force it to default on its sovereign debt.

0