* West weighing more sanctions against Russia over Ukraine
* Proposal aimed at reducing Western influence on economy
* Ex-finance minister says plan will hurt competitiveness
(Adds comments from Gazprom and Rosneft)
By Gleb Stolyarov
KALININGRAD, Russia, May 14 Russia, keen to
dodge threatened Western sanctions on its companies over the
Ukraine crisis, said on Wednesday it was looking at ways for
major state-owned exporters such as energy giants to be paid in
The idea of major exporters being paid in roubles rather
than dollars has been gaining ground in recent weeks in response
to sanctions imposed by the West on officials and companies over
Russia's annexation of Crimea and an uprising in Ukraine's east.
"There are certain risks, but we are preparing a mechanism,
we are working on it," Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told
reporters during a visit to Russia's Baltic enclave of
"There are certain costs for exporters and for the buyers of
our export products because they will have to buy roubles, and
the rouble is now somewhat volatile, plus there is the payment
of commission," he said.
In response to Russia's actions in neighbouring Ukraine, the
United States has sanctioned 18 Russian companies, preventing
U.S. banks from processing their dollar transactions.
Western governments have so far refrained from sanctioning
major state companies, but they have threatened more sanctions
that could target key sectors such as energy and banking if
Russia further escalates the crisis in Ukraine.
Andrei Kostin, chairman of Russia's second largest bank VTB,
backed the rouble payment idea last month as a step to reduce
the West's influence over the Russian economy.
Kostin referred to "calls by high-ranking Western leaders to
isolate Russia, practically destroying the Russian banking
sector, using modern 'nuclear weaponry' - dollar payments," he
told a conference, in comments cited by the Vedomosti newspaper.
Kostin said just three state-owned companies, gas company
Gazprom, oil producer Rosneft and arms
exporter Rosoboronexport had around $230 billion in exports
between them, accounting for 44 percent of all Russian exports.
Gazprom said on Wednesday it was talking to its clients
about possibly moving to rouble payments, but that it would not
make any change unilaterally.
"We are conducting certain consultations with our clients.
This is a bilateral process, one cannot unilaterally present a
bill in roubles, it needs to be agreed with clients," spokesman
Sergei Kupriyanov said.
A spokesman for Rosneft said that "Rosneft is sticking to
contract obligations and will conduct payments in the currency
of the contract".
In an interview with Russia 24 television on Monday, Deputy
Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev said the government was in
discussion with major state-owned companies about the possible
transfer of their export contracts into roubles.
"Where there are additional inconveniences that arise from
using the national currency, these are not very significant. One
definitely needs to put up with these inconveniences because the
additional security that arises from this is very significant,"
Moiseev said, in comments cited on the finance ministry website.
The proposal for making rouble payments compulsory would not
apply to privately-owned exporters, Moiseev said.
Under the proposal, the buyers of major Russian exports
would still be able to pay in any currency, Moiseev said, but a
bank would need to convert the currency into roubles before it
was received by the Russian exporter.
Moiseev described the additional banking transaction costs
"Large London banks, which are oriented towards the London
currency market, practically all offer competitive contracts for
converting roubles and for hedging rouble currency risk," he
However, the idea came under fire from Alexei Kudrin,
Russia's influential former finance minister, who said the
additional costs it would impose on importers of Russian goods
would make Russian exports less competitive.
"The foreign importer will have to buy roubles in Russian
banks, spend money on banking commissions and take on the
exchange rate risk," Kudrin said in comments to the Kommersant
newspaper, cited on his personal website.
He said importers were likely to pass some of these costs on
to Russian exporters, leading to lower revenues and taxes.
"We are in tough competition and the requirement to buy with
roubles inevitably worsens the position of our companies in
tenders," Kudrin said.
(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk and Katya Golubkova;
writing by Jason Bush; editing by Elizabeth Piper and Tom