What does foreign debt default mean for Russia?
Attempts to prevent Moscow from paying its foreign debt may undermine the Western financial system
Western media is reporting that Russia is facing a default on its foreign debt for the first time since 1918. Moscow was forced to make interest payments on bonds in rubles after Washington blocked dollar payments.
- What is Russia’s reaction to default claims?
Moscow has rejected the assertions and has accused Washington of trying to engineer an artificial default, explaining that the country is willing and able to service its foreign debt. The transition to ruble payments does not imply a debt default, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has stressed.
- How does Moscow plan to service its foreign debt?
Under a new payment mechanism, which was recently announced and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, Moscow considers its obligations completed “if they are fulfilled in rubles in an amount equivalent to the value of obligations in foreign currency” at the exchange rate on the day the funds are transferred to the central depository (NSD), through which they will be paid to creditors.
- Why is Russia making bond payments in rubles?
In May, the US ended a bond payment waiver that had allowed Moscow to service its debt in dollars. The Russian Finance Ministry subsequently said that, in order to defend its reputation as a reliable borrower, Russia would service its Eurobond obligations in the national currency, the ruble, if it were unable to pay in foreign currency.
- What does being in default mean for a country?
Countries in default cannot borrow money cheaply through international financial institutions because they are considered a risk.
- How does that impact Russia?
There is no reason for Moscow to issue bonds. The country runs a low debt of around 16% of GDP, because it traditionally doesn’t rely heavily on borrowing. In comparison, most Western countries run debts close or well over to 100% of their GDP.
- How much damage does a default do to the country’s economy?
In terms of the Western financial system, it doesn’t matter. Sanctions make it impossible for Russia to trade as it used to. Most Western companies have pulled out and borrowing money from Western financial institutions is not possible. This makes Russia’s credit rating in the West meaningless.
- How does this impact Russia’s remaining trade partners?
In terms of China, India and other major partners it has no negative effect. Russia’s trade with its BRICS partners has grown by almost 40% in the first quarter of 2022 from the $164 billion reached last year. Russia’s trade partners have been eager to replace Western businesses in Russia.
- What are Moscow’s alternatives to borrowing in Western institutions?
Financial institutions, such as the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), which was established by the member states Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, with the aim of financing infrastructure and development projects in emerging nations, could be a good option for Russia.
- What’s the potential fallout?
The West denies that a possible Russian default could have the kind of impact on global financial markets and institutions that came from an earlier default on domestic debt in 1998. Back then, Russia’s default on ruble bonds pushed the US government to step in and get banks to bail out a major American hedge fund whose collapse, it was feared, could have shaken the wider financial system.
However, investment analysts acknowledge that holders of Russian bonds could take serious losses as a result of Western actions and file lawsuits against the US government, which prevented Russia’s dollar payments. Moscow points out that attempts to push Russia into default only undermines the reputation of the Western financial system.
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