No ruble for the defense industry

Why did Alfa Bank publicly refuse to work with the Russian defense industry.
On January 3, the first deputy chairman of the board of directors of Alfa-Bank, Oleg Sysuev, said that the bank stopped servicing the enterprises of the Russian defense industry in order to reduce the risks of international activity. The decision of the largest private bank of Russia to distance itself from the OPK is connected with the second package of US sanctions, adopted in the summer of 2017 - since that moment any counterpart of Russian defense enterprises and special services can get on the black list. In response to the new sanctions, the Russian government proposed to classify the list of banks that work with the state defense order and transfer state purchases to closed trading platforms. Later there were rumors about the creation of a monopoly state bank to finance the defense industry on the basis of Vnesheconombank's subsidiary Globex, which should soon be transferred to the balance of the Federal Property Management Agency.

The founder of Alfa Group, Mikhail Fridman, in December publicly announced the bank's position with regard to clients from the defense industry, but for some reason it provoked a sharp reaction right now. Sysuev's statement was highly disapproved by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, noting that the bank was not authorized to work with the state defense order: "I do not give an ethical assessment of Alfa Bank's statement" ... ". I simply draw attention to the fact that Alfa Bank really asked, but never got permission to work with the means of state defense order. " The bank, however, explained that it was about stopping lending and providing military enterprises with settlement services, rather than working with government defense contracts. Among other things, Alfa's loan portfolio included Uralvagonzavod, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, Rostekh subsidiaries and the Defense Ministry structures.

As for the state defense order, the right to attract funds to defense enterprises has only a limited number of Russian banks that are state-owned and licensed to work with state secrets. In recent years, the inclusion in the state defense order system has become an opportunity for banks to earn easy money on colossal military budgets. Thus, according to the expert on military economics Vasily Zatsepin, only in the framework of the combined scheme for financing the state arms program, banks allocated 1.4 trillion rubles of loans for state guarantees to defense industry enterprises, earning more than 300 billion rubles on this. In 2016, Alfa unsuccessfully sought inclusion in this scheme, but the government's refusal ultimately played the role of the bank: in February, Russian big business expects a new sanction package from the US, which can become more painful and large-scale than the previous ones. The rhetoric of the bank's leadership about the break with the defense industry is just an attempt to be safe from this threat.

Unlike Rogozin, the broad patriotic community did not refrain from ethical judgments and attacked Alfa-Bank with accusations of pursuing selfish interests and unwillingness to move to military races at a difficult time for the country. The arguments about the Israeli citizenship of Friedman and the participation of the Ukrainian branch of Alfa in the financing of ATU in the Donbas came into play. However, the patriots have overlooked the paradoxical fact that the policy of a private bank differs from the actions of state corporations and state-owned banks, except by a greater degree of publicity. For example, Sberbank and VTB not only still do not work in the Crimea, but they also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to American lobbying firms for seeking ways to mitigate sanctions. "... we are no different from Sberbank, from VTB, from banks that operate with dollars, have correspondent accounts in the US, we, of course, limit our risks in this sense," Sisuev said Business FM.

Open partnership with the Russian regime costs businessmen and bankers at an ever higher price. In 2015, Alfa-Bank forced to shut down the office in New York, and a year ago the key figures of the bank's top management, Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, were named by the American press as Vladimir Putin's advisers in connection with interference in the presidential elections in the United States. Despite the ousting from the Western capital markets, Alfa management still has something to lose: according to Forbes, Fridman invested $ 5 billion in foreign companies last year, more than all other Russian businessmen. Moreover, the story with the Crimea shows that even VTB and Sberbank may prefer to give up their profits from the state defense order than to get under the strict sanctioning rink. This means that in the near future we are waiting for a new round of discussions about the economic sovereignty of Russia and the degree of patriotism of domestic business elites.