IMF response to Ukraine debt hurts global finance: Analysts

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko welcomes International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde ahead of their meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, September 6, 2015.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko welcomes International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde ahead of their meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, September 6, 2015.

The International Monetary Fund has decided to allow lending to countries that have not cleared their sovereign debt to others. This will allow the IMF to continue aid to Ukraine, even if the country does not return the $3 billion it owes Russia. Analysts in Russia claim the new policy undermines the foundations of the global financial system.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has decided to review its policy toward countries that are in arrears to sovereign creditors, Bloomberg reports, citing IMF spokesman Gerry Rice. Earlier, the organization's charter did not allow financial assistance to countries that are in arrears on existing loans.

Russian representatives to the IMF' strongly opposed the decision taken on December 8, but they were not able to influence the vote, since they have a total of 2.39 percent of the vote in the council, the Russian business newspaper RBK Daily reports.

"The decision of the IMF provided the opportunity for other debtors as well to freely interpret obligations on sovereign debt. By doing this, it has laid a mine under the entire system of international finance," said Andrei Margolin, vice-rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

Ukrainian authorities have to repay the debt of $3 billion to Russia on December 20, 2015, but, as Kiev has repeatedly said, it has no intention of doing so. In case of non-repayment of funds, according to previous IMF regulations, the organization would have had to stop assistance to the country holding the debt.

Lack of guarantees

In November 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed restructuring Ukraine’s $3 billion debt; Kiev would get a year’s respite and then return a billion dollars annually over the next three years. However, to do this, Russia needed financial guarantees from the other countries, including the U.S. and the E.U., or financial institutions, including the IMF.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told President Putin at his December 9 meeting that Russia was unable to obtain such guarantees. "We received an official denial from the U.S. government to provide a guarantee for the obligations of Ukraine," said Siluanov.

The Russian Finance Ministry’s official report says Russian authorities plan to apply to the London Court of International Arbitration if they do not receive the payment in full from Ukraine, by the due date.

"Apparently, the E.U. and the IMF are trying to distance themselves from this conflict, so that it is resolved solely between Moscow and Kiev,” said Sergei Ilyin, an analyst of the investment company Premier.

Ilyin said everyone understands that the provision of these guarantees will mean that Europe will have to pay for Ukraine. "Non-payment of this debt will fall heavily on Ukraine in any case, so it will be better for all if they pay or are able to agree on restructuring," he said.

In turn, the Ukrainian authorities explain their position by saying that they cannot provide Russia with better terms than other creditors, who previously agreed to write off part of the debt.

IMF ‘traditionally stalling’

The last time the IMF amended its lending rules was in 1998, when the fund allowed lending to countries that did not pay debts to commercial banks; which held their sovereign bonds. However, a debt owed to international institutions and other countriesw did not allow the debtor to receive funds from the IMF.

At the end of October 2015, The Wall Street Journal, citing Douglas Rediker, a former U.S. representative to the IMF Executive Board, reported on the IMF's intention to change the rules "to avoid an outcome where Russia could hold the fund programme hostage."

However, Ilyin said, "the IMF is traditionally stalling in the hope that the problem will be solved by itself. Ultimately, the problem is to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, as everybody will lose as a result. But the precedent by itself, of course, can have a negative impact on the reputation of the entire institution in the business community," he said.

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