Sberbank Eyes Foray Into Belarus

MINSK -- Sberbank is considering entering the Belarussian market, a move that would be welcomed by the country's authorities, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday.

"There are absolutely no obstacles today for your bank's work in Belarus," Lukashenko said at a meeting with Sberbank chief executive German Gref, Belarussian state news agencies reported.

"At a time of a financial crisis, we are trying to look for additional resources to support our domestic currency and to support our economy. ... It is important for us to receive resources from the Russian Federation, from the Central Bank of Russia, to which you are directly linked," he said.

Gref said any move into Belarus by Sberbank would be as "a strategic partner" and that under current conditions, entering any new country is a "significant event."

"We are starting work with the Central Bank to find a way of entering the Belarussian market. This will be either through opening a new bank or acquiring an existing bank," he said.

Belarus sold stakes in some small and medium-sized banks to Russian banks last year. This year it registered some foreign banks in Belarus and wanted to sell a controlling stake in the country's largest bank to Commerzbank.

Belarus said last week that it would almost double the capital of a large bank, Belagroprombank, by $1 billion and was ready to spend $500 million on raising the capital of other banks.

Meanwhile, Belarus, which is seeking a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, has not yet been hit by the global financial crisis, as its economy is still largely controlled by the state.

Belarus' central bank has been selling dollars, sapping 11 percent in September and 4 percent in October from its reserves, to prop up the currency.

The Belarussian ruble has been pegged to the dollar in a range of 2,100 to 2,200. On Tuesday, its rate was 2,168, weaker than a recommended floor of 2,150.