Banks agree 'no seizure' on Russian debts

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The Independent Online
MADRID (AP) - Russia and foreign banks yesterday cleared a serious hurdle in the path to suspension of payments on about dollars 26bn ( pounds 17bn) of the nation's debts by agreeing there would be no seizure of Russian assets.

The Russian Economics Minister, Alexander Shokhin, said the agreement with creditor banks should lead to a quick settlement of the remaining commercial issues. He said Russia would make a dollars 500m interest payment to the banks toward the end of the year.

The point in dispute has been whether Russia would allow seizure of assets on its soil. That would mean giving up what is called Russia's 'sovereign immunity'.

Many Russians felt their country's status as a great power would be hurt if they agreed to yield this immunity, as Latin American debtor countries have done. Under the agreement, the debtor will not be the Russian government but a Russian bank, possibly the Vneshekonombank.

'Under no circumstances would Russia's assets be subject to settlement or attachment regarding the loans,' Mr Shokhin told a news conference.

'It signals that Russia is beginning to put behind it the financial consequences of the collapse of the former Soviet Union.'

Mr Shokhin and Christian Vontz of Deutsche Bank signed the accord at the Russian embassy in Madrid on behalf of 600 banks outside Russia. 'Russia's word will guarantee that we will not suffer any loss,' Mr Vontz said.

The German banker said the foreign banks would enter into closer relationships with banks in Russia and so stimulate the economy there. They would accept Russia into the international community.

Mr Shokhin has been holding talks with the Bank Advisory Committee that Mr Vontz heads, on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the 179 governments in the International Monetary Fund and its sister agency, the World Bank.

Mr Shokhin promised that Moscow would issue a declaration confirming its commitment to meet its obligations.

Russia wants to reduce not only the amounts it has to pay to banks but also some dollars 60bn it owes to foreign governments - most of it inherited from the former Soviet Union. Earlier this year, it persuaded government debtors to accept a delay in payments of dollars 8bn.

Russia says it does not have enough money to meet interest payments on the debt and rebuild its economy along market lines.

Its debt to commercial banks totals dollars 24bn plus interest, according to Mr Vontz.

Mr Shokhin said the agreement with the banks was an important vote of confidence by the international financial community in Russia's ability to meet its obligations.

On Sunday, Mr Shokhin announced that Russia would start talks soon on another part of its dollars 90bn foreign debt - the money it owes to foreign traders for imports.