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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exclusion of Banks 'Disappoints' U.S.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow expressed dismay Tuesday that two of the United States' largest banks, Chase Manhattan and Citibank, had been excluded from a recent presidential decree easing restrictions on foreign banks in Russia. "We are disappointed that the Russian Federation chose not to lift restrictions at this time against U.S. banks," the embassy said in a statement, the first U.S. response to the recent decree. A U.S. embassy spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said that Ambassador Thomas Pickering "is raising this in his discussions with Russian government officials." In a decree earlier this month, President Boris Yeltsin lifted controversial limitations he had placed on foreign banks that had obtained licenses to do business in Russia. The decree only applied to countries that have working bilateral investment protection treaties with Russia, which included banks from the European Union. But the condition excluded Chase Manhattan and Citibank, which both received Russian operating licenses in November. Although the United States and Russia signed an investment protection treaty in 1992, the accord is not in effect because the Russian State Duma has yet to ratify it. The embassy called on the Duma to approve the treaty. However, the investment protection treaty is unlikely to be debated by the Duma before the parliament's summer vacation, which runs from July to October. The statement said that the United States disagreed with the linkage of the investment treaty with the operation of foreign banks. "We do not view an investment agreement as a relevant criterion for the entry of banks," it said. It was unclear why Yeltsin had linked the restrictions to the treaty, but Russian bankers have suggested it was to pressure the United States and other countries to open their borders to Russian banks. In a sharply worded letter last week, the Russian Banking Association called on Yeltsin to reinstate the restrictions, arguing that foreign banks would stifle the development of the domestic financial industry and that Russian banks had been excluded from the U.S. market. In its statement, the embassy responded that the United States does not discriminate against foreign banks and bases its decisions on capital adequacy and supervision. "We believe that foreign banks contribute technology, capital, and competition to Russia's banking market and will help consumers and businesses in Russia," the statement said. Russian Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, in an interview published in Tuesday's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, reiterated his long-standing support for foreign-bank presence in Russia. "When our commercial banks say it is a betrayal to allow in foreigners, in most cases they are promoting just their local interests," he said. "They simply do not want healthy competition and that's all." He said it was wrong for Russia to seek foreign investment in the trade, services and industrial sectors but not in the banking sector. "If we want to be an integral part of the international economy and enter the world market, we cannot do it without cooperation with the banking system on a world scale," he said.