Rich Russians, Ukrainians Losing Billions in Crimea Conflict

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Russia and Ukraine’s richest citizens have lost billions of dollars just in a day due to tensions in the Crimea region.

Bloomberg agency has revealed that the top 300 wealthiest people in the world have lost a total of USD 44.4 B, after stock exchanges collapsed on Monday amid fears of war and violence in Ukraine’s Russian-majority autonomous region.

As of Monday, March 3, Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index shows the wealth of Russia’s tycoons shrank by USD 13 B within 24 hours.

The Ukrainian conflict has resulted in market volatility as the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula has raised geopolitical risk and has put Russian and global economic growth in jeopardy.

The stand-off in Crimea has also raised fears of a Russian macroeconomic turmoil.

“The progressives in the government have been arguing that a conflict would be a disaster for our economy,” Igor Yurgens, an economist and former adviser to the Kremlin, was quoted as saying by The Financial Times.

Russian financial experts also warned against capital flight, which has already been under way for years (about USD 50 B have been taken out of the country in 2012), but also against the prospects of strangling investment in a stagnating economy that grew only 1.3% in 2013, amid expectations of a 3% GDP increase.

Over the past years, attempts at restricting offshore activity and deregulating public services to lower state pressure on the economy were being prepared.

However, such efforts seem to be questioned by a possible escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict due to the direct exposure of Russian banks to Ukraine and to the disruption of some major Russian projects abroad that could boost GDP in the near future.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse wrote that the South Stream pipeline project might be hindered by international sanctions against Russia.

Construction of the South Stream, which is planned to bring Russian natural gas across the Black Sea to the Balkans and Central Europe and which will make its way through Bulgarian soil, would come to a halt if a ban on Russian imports is imposed within the EU.

The financial institution’s forecast puts the probability of trouble with the South Stream at 15 to 20%.

Sanctions would also prevent the Russian government from issuing new debt, this posing a huge danger to public finance.

Other experts suggest that negative predictions miss the point. Neil Shearing, chief emerging market economist at Capital Economics, says that structural problems already existed in the Russian economy and it was showing bad results prior to the Ukrainian crisis.

Shearing also underlines the remarkable foreign exchange reserves held by Russia (some USD 500 B), ranking the country among the first currency reserve holders in the world, right after China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland.

Forex reserves can serve as a buffer in emergency situations such as the conflict developing south of the Russian border.

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