It is no secret that Russia has had enough of the Petrodollar, and in light of ongoing western sanctions - which many view not so much as a reaction to events in Ukraine bur merely as an attempt to halt the Russian revolution against the Petrodollar status quo, crushing its economy before the momentum grows and more countries join Moscow - is constantly thinking of ways it can ditch the dollar as a medium of exchange as fast as possible. The problem is that when it comes to retaliating against the West, Russia - short of declaring an embargo on USD payments for its commodities - has little control over what currency its western trading partners will pay in. So instead it is focusing on its net exporting peers, aka the BRICS, with whom as previously reported, Russia had launched a "bank" alternative to the IMF when it comes to backstop and bailout funding, one that avoids reliance on the SDR, the USD, and on Western empathy.
It is the same BRICs that, Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, told Rossiya TV in an interview earlier today, should conduct transactions in national currencies, bypassing cross-rates with the US Dollar, adding that "we can easily make mutual settlements directly," and the mechanism should be beneficial to both sides of transactions.
And if it wasn't clear by now, Russia pivot away from the west and toward China is pretty much complete. Medvedev also said that "our collaboration with China is of strategic importance. We have great, brilliant political contacts, we have excellent economic relations. [China] is our strategic partner, and we are interested in expanding the volume of cooperation. We are not afraid of collaborating because we are confident that this is equal, friendly and mutually beneficial collaboration in all areas."
Meanwhile, regarding escalating Western tensions, the PM said that sanctions have created a bad situation for Russian banks on financial markets, all sources of liquidity are frozen. "We regard this as a senseless and ugly decision toward Russia, but we’ll manage without it." So does that mean that China will step in to provide the required FX reserves as Russia minimizes its USD exposure? Perhaps, but not entirely: Medvedev did add that "Asia, other markets “unlikely fully” to compensate for frozen European financing."
The PM also said that Russia passed through similar squeeze in 2008-2009 and can manage with central bank resources, adding that Europe is still important market for Russia, if EU members "make no absurd decisions to squeeze us out of this market, we’ll stay there, it’s interesting for us."
But while Medvedev was the good cop today, it was Russia's finance minister Anton Siluanov who was the designated "bad guy", and as the WSJ reported, Russia is considering diversifying its debt portfolio away from countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow and into the papers of its BRICS partners.
Speaking on the sidelines of an annual investment forum in the Black Sea town of Sochi, Mr. Siluanov said the Finance Ministry wants to diversify its investment basket, and is looking for higher yields without too much risks. He said the ministry will consider buying papers issued by Brazil, India, China and South Africa, which along with Russia are known collectively as the Brics countries."[We would like to] walk away from investing in papers of the countries that impose sanctions against us," Mr. Siluanov said, adding that the reshuffle would be carried out gradually. He didn't elaborate on when the first purchases of Brics debt may take place.
The good news for the US, now that Russia appears set on either rapidly or slowly selling off its US Treasury exposure, is that Kremlin has possession of only $115 billion in US paper, which happens to be more than the $100 billion it reported in May when the first shock of a Russian bond sell off hit the market, and both of which happen to be amounts the Fed can easily monetize into its record big balance sheet (which, taper or no taper, just grew by $28 billion in the past week alone) in just over a month.
But at the end of the day it is not what Russia does, but what its other BRIC peers and US Treasury holders do. Because while Moscow may be in possession of just over $114.5 billion in US paper, China, Brazil and India share among them some $1.6 trillion in US Treasurys, better known as "leverage" in every sense of the word, or an amount that not even the Fed could monetize on short notice without sending a massive shockwave through the global capital markets.
In other words, while the US pushes Russia hard, it may be careful not to push it too hard, and in the process start an avalanche that leads to a BRIC bond avalanche, which may well be one possible endgame as the world is forced to transition from the US Dollar as a reserve currency in the coming years.
Never gonna happen?
Considering that none other than Obama's own former chief economic advisor, Jared Bernstein, is advocating dropping the USD as the global reserve currency, we would be careful with using the word "never" in this specific case...