Thursday 23, March 2023

Putin announces gas currency switch for ‘unfriendly countries’

The Russian rouble briefly leapt to a three-week high past 95 against the dollar on Wednesday in Moscow, before settling close to 100, after President Vladimir Putin said Russia would start selling its gas to “unfriendly countries” in roubles.

The potential ramifications of that move, which Putin ordered his government to sort out in one week, could boost the Russian currency, with a host of European countries still dependent on Moscow for much of their energy supplies.

Putin made the announcement at a meeting with top government ministers televised on Wednesday.

He said Russia would start selling gas to “unfriendly” countries in roubles, after a freeze on Russia’s assets by foreign nations had destroyed Moscow’s trust.

European countries’ dependence on Russian gas and other exports has been thrown into the spotlight since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia will continue, of course, to supply natural gas in accordance with volumes and prices … fixed in previously concluded contracts,” Putin said at a televised meeting with top government ministers.

“The changes will only affect the currency of payment, which will be changed to Russian roubles,” he said.

Putin said the government and central bank had one week to come up with a solution on how to move these operations to the Russian currency and that gas giant Gazprom would be ordered to make the corresponding changes to gas contracts.

As of January 27, Gazprom’s sales of natural gas to Europe and other countries were primarily settled in euros, at approximately 58 percent.

“An understandable and transparent procedure of making payments should be created for [all foreign buyers], including acquiring Russian roubles on our domestic currency market,” Putin said.

Coupon payment

Meanwhile, Russia appeared to have averted default on foreign debt by making a coupon payment on a sovereign eurobond, maturing in 2029, in US dollars. A bondholder said the payment had been received.

But Russian holders of domestic corporate eurobonds face delays in receiving payments settled through international agents, as transactions get snarled up by sanctions, Russia’s National Settlement Depository (NSD), companies and analysts said.

Demand for rouble liquidity has declined as the central bank sold 0.8 trillion roubles ($7.7 billion) at a one-day “fine-tuning” repo auction on Wednesday, lower than in previous days.

“Demand at overnight repo auctions is falling fast,” Veles Capital brokerage said in a note, explaining that even though banks’ liquidity levels have fallen to their lowest since June last year, lenders are repaying previous repo debts to the central bank.


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