Russia has defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time since 1918 after months of finding ways around Western sanctions that blocked Moscow’s payment routes over its invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg reported Monday.
It will likely take time to confirm that Russia has defaulted on its foreign-currency sovereign debt after the grace period on around $100 million due May 27 expired at the end of the day Sunday.
Russia calls any default a farce, saying it has the funds and the will to pay its debts.
Russia has been alienated from the global financial system with frozen Central Bank foreign reserves and its biggest banks cut off from the global financial system.
“It’s going to be one of the big watershed defaults in history,” Hassan Malik, senior sovereign analyst at Loomis Sayles & Company LP, told Bloomberg.
“It’s a very, very rare thing, where a government that otherwise has the means is forced by an external government into default,” Malik said.
Russia could be formally declared in default if 25% of creditors say they did not get their money. Provisions stipulate that Russia’s other foreign bonds could also be in default in that event, and bondholders could seek repayment through court.
Last week, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov warned that a declaration of default through courts would be "tantamount to severing diplomatic ties and entering into direct conflict."
“And this would put us in a different world with completely different rules. We would have to react differently in this case — and not through legal channels,” Siluanov said Thursday.
It would be Russia's first major default since the years following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The country last defaulted on its foreign currency debt in 1918, when Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin refused to recognize the obligations of the deposed tsar's regime.
Russia also suffered a default on public and private debt during the economic collapse of in 1998.
Russia’s Finance Ministry has said it switched to a new temporary payment system as of Wednesday, after the United States ended an exemption allowing Moscow to make the payments in dollars held in Russia.
Under the new system, the ministry transfers the ruble equivalent of the coupon's value to the Moscow-based National Settlement Depository that reimburses creditors in rubles at the rate of the Central Bank "to ensure the maximum equivalence of payments," Moscow Times reports.
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