Cash-strapped Ukraine launches crucial debt talks

Ukraine said it would begin negotiations with creditors on restructuring the conflict-torn country's debt, a move called for in its high-stakes multibillion-dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

AFP| Updated: Mar 13, 2015, 01:15 AM IST

Kiev: Ukraine said it would begin negotiations with creditors on restructuring the conflict-torn country's debt, a move called for in its high-stakes multibillion-dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko said she expected the first USD 5 billion tranche of the new USD 17.5 billion IMF loan by Friday, with another $5 billion later in the year.

The IMF said that major risks remained in Ukraine's economic recovery, the main one being the resumption of fighting in the east, where a ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russia rebels is largely holding but skating on "thin ice", according to monitors.

"The programme faces exceptionally high risks," the IMF said in its analysis. "Creditors may balk at the terms being offered."

Speaking at a briefing in Kiev, Jaresko said Ukraine would start consultations with creditors on Friday with the goal of "easing pressure" on the budget and saving $15 billion over the next four years.

"We will listen to their point of view over several weeks," she said. "We have to find solutions... I hope we find a solution within two months," to meet the June deadline set by the IMF.

Ukraine is bracing for a 5.5-percent contraction of its economy this year and is also battling to keep its currency afloat. The hryvnia lost over two-thirds in value over the past year.

The IMF estimates that Ukraine's debt-to-GDP ratio will hit 94 percent this year but then decline to 71 percent by 2020.

Jaresko did not specify on which debt she wanted to renegotiate terms, but analysts said the move would likely target bondholders.
"As far as I understand the finance ministry will enter negotiations with private creditors," Oleksandr Valchyshen, chief economist at Investment Capital Ukraine, told AFP.

The IMF lifeline, part of an international rescue package expected to reach USD 40 billion, aims to support "deep and wide-ranging policy reforms," according to the fund's managing director Christine Lagarde.

Ukraine's debt is made up mainly of USD 17 billion in bonds, with up to USD 8 billion reportedly owned by Franklin Templeton, a US investment firm.

Russia -- which Kiev and the West accuse of fuelling the insurgency in the east, accusations Moscow denies -- holds USD 3 billion in Ukrainian bonds.

The two-year loan was agreed by former president Viktor Yanukovych in January 2013 and Moscow has warned that it could demand early payment because of its own financial woes.

Asked about the Russian money, Jaresko said that Kiev "does not distinguish between nationalities" of its creditors and would launch consultations with everyone.

"It remains to be seen whether Russia would agree (to a restructuring)," Valchyshen said. "Probably they would try to block it."