When it comes to enforcing nations to pay inter-government debts, the IMF is able to withhold not only its own credit but also that of governments and global bank consortia participating when debtor countries need “stabilization” loans (the neoliberal euphemism for imposing austerity and destabilizing debtor economies, as in Greece this year). Countries that do not privatize their infrastructure and sell it to Western buyers are threatened with sanctions, backed by U.S.-sponsored “regime change” and “democracy promotion” Maidan-style. The Fund’s creditor leverage has been that if a nation is in financial arrears to any government, it cannot qualify for an IMF loan – and hence, for packages involving other governments. That is how the dollarized global financial system has worked for half a century. But until now, the beneficiaries have been U.S. and NATO lenders, not been China or Russia.
The IMF intended to adopt a new policy in the spring of 2016, but the dispute over Russia’s $3 billion loan to Ukraine has accelerated an otherwise slow decision-making process.
- Not to lend to a country that has no visible means to pay back the loan. This breaks the “No More Argentinas” rule, adopted after the IMF’s disastrous 2001 loan.
- Not to lend to a country that repudiates its debt to official creditors. This goes against the IMF’s role as enforcer for the global creditor cartel.
- Not to lend to a borrower at war – and indeed, to one that is destroying its export capacity and hence its balance-of-payments ability to pay back the loan.
- Finally, not to lend to a country that is not likely to carry out the IMF’s austerity “conditionalities,” at least without crushing democratic opposition in a totalitarian manner.
Over the past year the U.S. Treasury and State Departments have discussed ploys to block Russia from collecting by suing in the London Court of International Arbitration, under whose rules Russia’s bonds issued to Ukraine are registered. Reviewing the excuses Ukraine might use to avoid paying Russia, Prof. Gelpern noted that it might declare the debt “odious,” made under duress or corruptly. In a paper for the Peterson Institute of International Economics (the banking lobby in Washington) she suggested that Britain should deny Russia the use of its courts as a means of reinforcing the financial, energy and trade sanctions passed after Crimea voted to join Russia as protection against the ethnic cleansing from the Right Sector, Azov Battalion and other paramilitary groups descending on the region.
Having anticipated that Ukraine would seek excuses to not pay Russia, President Putin refrained from exercising Russia’s right to demand immediate payment when Ukraine’s foreign debt rose above 60 percent of GDP. In November he even offered to defer any payment at all this year, stretching payments out to “$1 billion next year, $1 billion in 2017, and $1 billion in 2018,” if “the United States government, the European Union, or one of the big international financial institutions” guaranteed payment. Based on their assurances “that Ukraine’s solvency will grow,” he added, they should be willing to put their money where their mouth was. If they did not provide guarantees, Putin pointed out, “this means that they do not believe in the Ukrainian economy’s future.”
America’s unilateralist geopolitics are tearing up the world’s economic linkages that were put in place in the heady days after World War II, when Europe and other countries were so disillusioned that they believed the United States was acting out of idealism rather than national self-interest. Today the question is how long Western Europe will be willing to forego its trade and investment interests by accepting U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Russia, Iran and other economies. Germany, Italy and France already are feeling the strains.
By treating Ukraine’s repudiation of its official debt to Russia’s National Wealth Fund as the new norm, the IMF has blessed its default. President Putin and foreign minister Lavrov have said that they will sue in British courts. The open question is whether any court exist in the West not under the thumb of U.S. veto?