Russian Banks Working to Limit Damage from Possible Sanctions

Some of the biggest Russian banks are working on plans to help each other in the event that they are hit by fresh U.S. sanctions, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

According to the report, the new scheme, which banks started to draft with Russia’s finance ministry and the Central Bank last year, would be unlikely to work indefinitely but could help avoid a panic if one or several big banks are cut off from dollar transactions.

But Russian banks still fear they could come under sanctions and so have begun to draft a contingency plan.

“Each important bank has a step-by-step plan on what should be done in a given situation. The first month is set out day by day, if not hour by hour,” a senior financial official said.

The news agency’s sources said Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, and others are examining how they can provide each other with access to U.S. dollars or other major foreign currencies by using so-called correspondent accounts, the sources said.

Banks access financial services in different jurisdictions and provide cross-border payment services to customers in various currencies through correspondent banking relationships.

U.S. lawmakers last year drafted a sanctions bill which proposed cutting off some of Russia’s top banks from the U.S. dollar system, mentioning Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Russian Agriculture Bank, Promsvyazbank, VEB and Bank of Moscow.

On Thursday, Gazprombank, Russia’s third-biggest lender by assets, sold its indirect stake in the Petrozamora joint venture in Venezuela, according to a source at the bank. The move is also directly connected to efforts to distance the bank from business operations in Venezuela amid crippling U.S. sanctions on Caracas.