Russia is considering paying Eurobond holders by applying the mechanism it is using to process payments for its gas in roubles, the Kremlin and the finance minister said, as the country makes another bid to avert a historic debt default.
Washington is ramping up pressure on Russia following the military intervention in Ukraine, and last week pushed Moscow closer to default by not extending a licence that had allowed U.S. creditors to receive Russian debt payments.
Foreign Eurobond holders are now awaiting two coupon payments, in dollars and euros, which fell due last week but carry a 30-day grace period.
Russia says it has cash and is willing to pay, refusing any talk of default. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Monday that Moscow will continue to service its external debts in roubles.
But for foreign Eurobond holders to receive payments in foreign currencies as per Russia’s obligations, they would have to open rouble and hard currency accounts at a Russian bank, he told Vedomosti newspaper.
“As happens with paying for gas in roubles: we are credited with foreign currency, here it is exchanged for roubles on behalf of (the gas buyer), and this is how the payment takes place,” he said.
“The Eurobond settlement mechanism will operate in the same manner, only in the other direction.”
This system would allow Russia to bypass the Western payment infrastructure via Russia’s National Settlement Depository (NSD), Siluanov told Vedomosti.
Unlike many Russian financial institutions, the NSD is not under Western sanctions. There will be no limit on rouble conversion into other currencies and the scheme will be reviewed by the government soon, he said.
In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov endorsed Siluanov’s plan but said the finance ministry will consult with bondholders before introducing it.
“There is money, there is a willingness to pay, be that in roubles or under a scheme most convenient for the bondholders. Everything will depend on those contacts,” Peskov said.
The finance ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for comment. A financial market source said Russia plans to present the scheme to investors before its next payments, on two bonds, fall due on June 23.