While hitting Putin in his pockets is a way to slow or stop his designs on Ukraine and perhaps more of Eastern Europe, economic experts warn of the global implications of Russia defaulting on its mounting international debt. 

According to a troubling newly-released report from Oxford Economics, the impending Russian debt default is likely to be one of the most difficult in history to resolve and could even lead the US to permanently seize assets from the country’s central bank!

Russia is facing its first default on its foreign-currency debt since the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution in 1918.

The US Treasury earlier this month blocked Russia from paying $650 million due on two bonds using funds held at American banks. Russia has instead tried to pay in rubles, but credit ratings agencies have said this would constitute a default.

Russia has a 30-day grace period from April 4 in, which to pay in dollars. But thoughts are now turning to the next steps and how bondholders might recoup their money.

Tatiana Orlova, lead emerging markets economist at Oxford Economics, said investors face a “very long and difficult” legal road. “Russia’s debt crisis will be among the most difficult in history to resolve since the default has its roots in politics rather than finance,” she wrote in the report that went out to Oxford clients last week.

One of the key problems is that political and financial relations between Russia and the West have completely broken down. That makes the usual default process, whereby bondholders and the government enter negotiations and thrash out a deal, seem unlikely to happen.

Orlova said another problem for bondholders is that Ukraine may lay a claim to Russian assets in international courts to pay for the rebuilding of the country. In that case, investors would have to weigh up whether they want to compete with the Ukrainian government for Russian assets.

The economist said the US might eventually end up seizing the money from the Russian central bank’s foreign currency reserves. Western governments have already frozen the bulk of the roughly $600 billion stockpile.

President Joe Biden earlier this year ordered that half of Afghanistan’s central bank reserves, which were also frozen, be made available as possible compensation for victims of 9/11 and to fund humanitarian support in the country.

“The US administration could possibly find a stronger moral cause for splitting the US-denominated portion of Russia’s FX reserves between Ukraine and bondholders,” Orlova said.

The Oxford report also said that there is likely to be an “avalanche” of Russian corporate debt defaults, given that the US is taking a hard line and banning American banks from processing payments.

An international committee of banks last week deemed state-owned Russian Railways to be in default after sanctions stopped the company from making bond payments.

There were roughly $98 billion of Russian corporate foreign-currency bonds outstanding as the war began in February, according to JPMorgan, with $21.3 billion owned by foreign investors – should Russia default on all of that debt, it will have major international implications for the global economy.

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