BlackRock and others form a group to try to pressure Ukraine to start repaying its debts

A group of foreign bondholders have taken steps to force Ukraine to begin repaying its debts as soon as next year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

If they succeed, Kiev could haemorrhage $500 million every year on interest payments alone.

The group, which includes investment giants BlackRock and Pimco, granted Kiev a two-year debt holiday in 2022, gambling that the conflict with Russia would have concluded by now.

With no end to the fighting in sight, the lenders have now hired lawyers at Weil Gotshal & Manges and bankers from PJT Partners to meet with Ukrainian officials and strike a deal whereby Ukraine would resume making interest payments next year in exchange for having a significant chunk of its debt written off, anonymous sources told the Wall Street Journal.

Read more: World Bank issues Ukraine bankruptcy warning

The group holds around a fifth of Ukraine’s $20 billion in outstanding Eurobonds, the newspaper reported. While this figure represents a fraction of Ukraine’s total external debt of $161.5 billion, servicing the interest on these bonds would cost the country $500 million annually, the bondholders said.

Should the bondholders fail to strike a deal with Kiev by August, Ukraine could default. This would damage the country’s credit rating and restrict its ability to borrow even more money in the future.

According to the newspaper, Ukrainian officials are hoping that the US and other Western governments will take its side during talks with the bondholders. However, a group of these countries have already offered Ukraine a debt holiday on around $4 billion worth of loans until 2027, and are reportedly concerned that any deal with the bondholders would see private lenders being repaid before them.

Ukraine already relies on foreign aid to keep government departments open and state employees paid. The country’s military is almost entirely dependent on foreign funding; officials in Kiev and the West were predicting imminent defeat until the US Congress approved a foreign aid bill last month which included $61 billion for Ukraine and US government agencies involved in the conflict.

The bill provides almost $14 billion to Ukraine for the purchase of weapons, and includes $9 billion in new “forgivable loans.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, some bondholders have suggested that the US and EU could use frozen Russian assets to pay off Ukraine’s debts. While around $300 billion in assets belonging to the Russian central bank have been frozen in American and European banks since 2022, the US only passed legislation allowing for their seizure last month, and no similar legal mechanism exists in Europe, where the vast majority of these assets are held.

The International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) and European Central Bank (“ECB”) have both urged governments not to steal this money, with ECB chief Christine Lagarde warning last month that doing so would risk “breaking the international order that you want to protect.”

Read More: BlackRock and others form a group to try to pressure Ukraine to start repaying its debts

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