Russia’s VTB open to swaps as it seeks to reclaim $10 bln in frozen assets

Russia’s VTB Bank (VTBR.MM) is interested in an asset swap with Russian subsidiaries of European lenders as it seeks to recover some 600 billion roubles ($9.86 billion) in frozen assets it has in the West, its Chief Executive Andrei Kostin said on Tuesday.

Western countries and allies, including Japan, have piled financial restrictions on Russia since it sent troops into Ukraine in late February, some of which saw Russian assets frozen.

Moscow retaliated by putting in place obstacles for Western businesses and their allies seeking to leave Russia, including a ban on investors from so-called unfriendly countries from selling shares in banks until the end of the year.

Italy’s UniCredit and Intesa and Austria’s Raiffeisen continue to search for options to exit Russia. Societe Generale found a way out earlier this year, while U.S. group Citi said last month it would close its consumer and commercial banking businesses in the country.

Kostin said there were large European banks in Russia with a comparable amount of assets, but ruled out any attempt to acquire Citi’s business.

“For a long time, even before European sanctions were announced, we started the discussion and saw great interest, namely from European financial institutions, for an exchange,” Kostin told reporters at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.

“As I understand (it), local regulators are forcing them to zero out these assets in Russia.” Asked if he was referring to Unicredit and Raiffeisen, Kostin said: “Yes, they are the largest.”

Kostin on Tuesday said VTB, which was targeted with unprecedented sanctions in the spring, returned to profit in July after record-making losses in the first six months of the year, but still expects to post a loss for the year as a whole.