Feb 28, 2022 - Economy
Axios Explains: Ukraine

Divesting from Russia is easier said than done

Illustration of a Russian flag crumpled up into a ball.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Divestment is the financial buzzword on Russia, but everything after its last syllable is murky.

Between the lines: Announcing plans to divest is very different than actually divesting. Particularly when Russia's central bank is severely limiting the sale of Russian equities by nonresidents, and the U.S. is blocking that bank from engaging in dollar-denominated transactions.

Driving the news: BP yesterday said it would exit its 19.75% stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, said it would divest its $25 billion of Russian assets. Companies like Daimler Truck and Equinor said they intend to abandon Russian joint ventures.

  • Expect this list to grow so long as the war persists. It also could impact the VC/PE markets, where Russian money has flowed into funds and deals.

But, again, it's very complicated.

  • BP, for example, tells Axios that it "can't yet say" how it plans to make good on its Rosneft pledge.
  • Norway disclosed that it's begun selling its positions, without revealing strategies, but that was before the Russian and U.S. bank blockades.

There also could be reverse divestiture complications.

  • Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich on Saturday turned over "stewardship and care" of Chelsea FC, the Premier League team he's owned since 2003, to Chelsea FC's charitable foundation.
  • Lots of buyers are now circling the soccer club, valued at over $2 billion, but U.K. sanctions could prevent Abramovich from selling.

What to watch: If divestitures do occur, there's a second-order question as to who'll catch the falling knives. An energy giant like Saudi Aramco might have interest in a specific company like Rosneft, but the bigger picture could be China consolidating Russian assets.

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