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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bankers Blame Government for Crisis in Credit

Bankers on Friday blamed the government for a looming banking crisis that threatens to cause a wave of failures among Russia's 2,200 commercial banks.

"The government has brought down inflation at the cost of making many enterprises penniless," said Mikhail Bazarya, head of the banking department at the Association of Russian Banks, a powerful lobby group that claims to represent one-third of the nation's private banks.

"Now the non-payment crisis in industry is putting a squeeze on banks," he said.

Bazarya confirmed that many banks faced bankruptcy because of "trillions of rubles" in bad debts.

But he denied that the banks were in trouble because they had given out credits too freely, as government officials have recently suggested. He said the government had required banks to issue credits to ailing industries and then left them to cope with insolvent factories.

He cited as an example the Furmanov textile factory in Central Russia, which received a large bank loan as part of a government attempt to revive light industry, but then was not paid for army uniforms ordered by the Defense Ministry.

"Those credits were ordered by the government to prop up key sectors of the economy," he said. "Now the government is causing factories to default on the credits."

"The banking system is having a very hard time," said Larisa Solodukhina, a spokesperson for the Central Bank. "Some banks were ordered by the government to issue credits to industries and now the factories cannot repay them."

She said that a number of banks authorized to extend credits backed by the Central Bank now had an outstanding debt to the state bank, but declined to name the banks or the size of the debt.

Since the beginning of this year, 53 banks have had their licences revoked by the Central Bank for failure to maintain a positive balance in their Central Bank correspondent accounts and other violations of banking laws. In Moscow alone, 79 banks have been fined this year because they could not maintain the required money reserve.

Solodukhina wrote off those alarming figures as a childhood disease of the Russian banking system.

"Commercial banking is only five years old here," she said. "When a child is only five years old, it's hard to expect him to be perfectly healthy."

But experts suggested that the Russian banking system was suffering from more than growing pains.

"It's hard to find a borrower now who would be able to pay back a bank loan," said Pavel Zotov, a spokesman for Menatep Bank. "The smaller banks, especially in the provinces, for which loans are the main source of revenues, are in a very difficult position now."

Zotov confirmed a recent prediction by Andrei Illarionov, an economist at the government Center for Economic Reform, that half of Russia's commercial banks could soon go broke. But he added that only 20 percent of those banks would ultimately be liquidated as bankrupt. According to Zotov, most of the failed banks will be swallowed up by larger, more viable financial groups.

Zotov said small provincial banks had to rely on loans as their primary source of profit because they lacked the infrastructure for more sophisticated services, like working with international transactions or trading effectively on the interbank loan market.

But he added that large banks like Menatep would also face problems when smaller banks begin to fail en masse.

"Those banks owe us money. Every major bank has that problem," he said. "Even our debtors have debtors of their own who cannot repay them."