While oil prices were soaring, Russia amassed a pile of hard currency that most countries could only dream of. Just a year ago, foreign reserves held by its central bank stood at more than $515 billion, including tens of billions in energy export revenue pumped into two big sovereign wealth funds that invested the money in foreign government bonds and other overseas assets.
Now the hoard is starting to dwindle. Over the past year, total foreign reserves have fallen almost 20 percent, to less than $419 billion. The Bank of Russia has spent billions in an effort to prop up the ruble, while the Kremlin has begun raiding the sovereign wealth funds to aid banks and companies hit by Western sanctions.
The finance ministry says it will probably take $10 billion out of one of the funds to plug a hole in the government’s 2015 budget. And in his annual address to lawmakers on Dec. 4, President Vladimir Putin said that the other fund, which is intended to support Russia’s pension system, should be tapped for an unspecified amount “to implement a program for recapitalization of leading domestic banks,” which in turn would be expected to invest in infrastructure projects.
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