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Experts divided on prospects of Russian state property privatization amid crisis

January 19, 18:35 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, December 19. /TASS/. State property privatization is needed in Russia in the long term but now it is far from being the appropriate time for this. It has to be carried out when the economy is on the rise rather than when it is living through a crisis, according to an opinion voiced by many Russian experts.

The experts commented on a discussion in the Russian government on the possible sale of assets of state banks and state companies to replenish the budget amid a plunge in world oil prices.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov gave instructions back in November last year to look into the possibility of accelerating the sale of large assets "regardless of the unfavorable market situation."

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said earlier the government planned to receive "about 1 trillion rubles [$13 billion] over two years" from privatization. He specified recently that the talk was about privatizing 19.5% of the share package of state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

The finance minister also said that privatization of the country’s two largest state lenders - VTB and Sberbank - could not be ruled out either. Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev also spoke about the privatization of these state assets.

"The current period is not the best moment for the sale: the crisis always reduces the cost of quite large and good assets," Deputy Head of the State Finance Department at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Kamnev told TASS.

"No doubt, the state, in principle, needs to get rid of these assets and privatization is required but not today. Possibly, the procedure can be started but the final sale should be postponed to the post-crisis period when interest in these assets will grow. But today they will be sold for a song and budget problems will not be resolved all the same," the expert said.

Head of the Department of Finances, Money Circulation and Credit at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) and ex-deputy head of Russia’s Central Bank Alexander Khandruyev views the idea of state property privatization at the current stage very negatively.

"I have always been the advocate of the staged privatization of Sberbank and VTB. During crisis periods, state assets are not privatized and, on the contrary, efforts are made to increase the state’s share and provide support," Khandruyev told TASS.

"Will they sell at dumping prices? You need to sell when stock prices grow."

From the viewpoint of the medium-term perspective, privatization is the solely correct decision, Khandruyev said.

"This is because state ownership is ineffective with rare exceptions while the dominance of state banks leads to unfair competition as they use the administrative resource. But during the crisis, we’ll get just kopecks into the budget and give away property to those who received aid from the state," the expert said.

"The underlying reason is the desire of financial authorities to replenish the budget but still these banks are systemically important institutions," Head of the Economy and Finance Department at RANEPA Alla Dvoretskaya told TASS.

‘And so, if we make them private, without state support, already during the crisis, this will not be very good from the social viewpoint. "These banks handle social and wage payment programs, support small and medium business. It is difficult to imagine that some of these private banks would subsequently engage in this on altruistic grounds," the expert said.

"Although it is said that these assets are attractive and will find buyers, I have doubts about that, especially considering that these are the banks on the [Western] sanctions list," the expert said.

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