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    Kraken, a U.S. Crypto Exchange, Is Suspected of Violating Sanctions

    The Treasury Department is investigating whether the crypto exchange allowed users in Iran to buy and sell digital tokens, said people with knowledge of the matter.Kraken, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, is under federal investigation, suspected of violating U.S. sanctions by allowing users in Iran and elsewhere to buy and sell digital tokens, according to five people affiliated with the company or with knowledge of the inquiry.The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has been investigating Kraken since 2019 and is expected to impose a fine, said the people, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution from the company. Kraken would be the largest U.S. crypto firm to face an enforcement action from O.F.A.C. Sanctions against Iran, which the United States imposed in 1979, prohibit the export of goods or services to people or entities in the country.The federal government has increasingly cracked down on crypto companies, which are lightly regulated, as the market for digital currencies has grown. Tether, a stablecoin company, was fined by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for misstatements about its reserves last year, while the Justice Department brought insider-trading charges this month against an ex-employee of Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange.Scrutiny of the industry has risen in recent months as the crypto market went into meltdown and several companies, such as Voyager Digital and Celsius Network, collapsed.Kraken, a private company valued at $11 billion that allows users to buy, sell or hold various cryptocurrencies, has previously faced regulatory actions. Last year, the C.F.T.C. levied a $1.25 million penalty against the company for a prohibited trading service.In an internal conversation about employee benefits in 2019, Jesse Powell, Kraken’s chief executive, suggested he would consider breaking the law in a wide range of situations if the advantages to the company outweighed potential penalties, according to messages seen by The New York Times. The company has also been dealing with internal conflict over issues including race and gender, which were stoked by Mr. Powell.Marco Santori, Kraken’s chief legal officer, said the company “does not comment on specific discussions with regulators.” He added, “Kraken closely monitors compliance with sanctions laws and, as a general matter, reports to regulators even potential issues.”A Treasury spokeswoman said the agency “does not confirm or comment on potential or ongoing investigations” and was committed to enforcing “sanctions that protect U.S. national security.”Sanctions are some of the most powerful tools the United States has to influence the behavior of nations it does not consider allies. But cryptocurrencies pose a threat to sanctions because the digital coins don’t flow through the traditional banking system, making the funds harder for the government to control.In October, the Treasury Department warned that cryptocurrencies “potentially reduce the efficacy of American sanctions.” It released a 30-page compliance manual that recommended cryptocurrency companies use geolocation tools to weed out customers in restricted regions.“The fact that crypto can move without a bank or intermediary means that exchanges are responsible for certain types of financial regulatory compliance,” said Hailey Lennon, a lawyer at Anderson Kill who handles regulatory issues in crypto. Kraken and the issue of sanctions surfaced in a November 2019 lawsuit by a former employee from the finance department, Nathan Peter Runyon, who accused the start-up of generating revenue from accounts in countries that were under sanctions. He said he had taken the matter to Kraken’s chief financial officer and top compliance official in early 2019, according to legal filings. (The suit was settled last year.)That same year, O.F.A.C. began investigating Kraken, focusing on the company’s accounts in Iran, the people familiar with the investigation said. Kraken’s customers have also opened accounts in Syria and Cuba, two other countries under U.S. sanctions, the people said. In 2020, O.F.A.C. fined BitGo, a digital wallet service with an office in Palo Alto, Calif., more than $98,000 in 2020 for 183 apparent sanctions violations. Last year, it fined BitPay, an Atlanta-based crypto payment processor, more than $500,000 for 2,102 apparent violations. Coinbase also disclosed in a 2021 financial filing that it had sent notices to O.F.A.C. flagging transactions that may have violated sanctions, though the agency hasn’t taken any enforcement action.Mr. Powell co-founded Kraken in 2011 and was an early proponent of Bitcoin, a digital currency that was marketed as being free of any government’s influence or regulation.In 2018, the New York attorney general’s office asked Kraken and 12 other exchanges to answer a questionnaire about their operations. Kraken refused to respond, with Mr. Powell calling New York “hostile to business” on Twitter.Kraken allows users to buy, sell or hold various cryptocurrencies.KrakenIn 2019, Mr. Powell got into an argument on Slack about parental leave at Kraken, according to messages viewed by The Times. Mr. Powell said parental leave was a burden for the company because a child “might as well be a second job, a distracting hobby or a harmful addiction” and “is something outside of work that has a negative impact on work.”The conversation soon shifted to a discussion of legal requirements. Mr. Powell said that in his “formula for everything,” it was important to consider whether it’s “worth the risk to not follow the legal requirement.” He added, “Not following the law would by default be ‘ill-advised,’ but it always has to be considered as an option.”Mr. Powell did not respond to an email requesting comment.This year, Mr. Powell was one of the loudest voices in the crypto industry resisting calls to shut down accounts in Russia after it invaded Ukraine. The United States has imposed sanctions on some individuals and businesses in Russia, but it hasn’t required crypto companies to cut off access to the country entirely.As of last month, Kraken appeared to still be servicing accounts in countries under sanctions, such as Iran, according to a spreadsheet that Mr. Powell posted to a companywide Slack channel to show where the company’s customers were. He said the data came from residence information listed on “verified accounts.”The spreadsheet said Kraken had 1,522 users with residences in Iran, 149 in Syria and 83 in Cuba, according to figures seen by The Times. The company also had more than 2.5 million users with residences in the United States and more than 500,000 in Britain. The spreadsheet was soon made unavailable to most employees. More

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    How Joe Manchin Left a Global Tax Deal in Limbo

    Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen’s signature achievement is in jeopardy if the United States cannot ratify the tax agreement that she brokered.WASHINGTON — In June, months after reluctantly signing on to a global tax agreement brokered by the United States, Ireland’s finance minister met privately with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, seeking reassurances that the Biden administration would hold up its end of the deal.Ms. Yellen assured the minister, Paschal Donohoe, that the administration would be able to secure enough votes in Congress to ensure that the United States was in compliance with the pact, which was aimed at cracking down on companies evading taxes by shifting jobs and profits around the world.It turns out that Ms. Yellen was overly optimistic. Late last week, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, effectively scuttled the Biden administration’s tax agenda in Congress — at least for now — by saying he could not immediately support a climate, energy and tax package he had spent months negotiating with the Democratic leadership. He expressed deep misgivings about the international tax deal, which he had previously indicated he could support, saying it would put American companies at a disadvantage.“I said we’re not going to go down that path overseas right now because the rest of the countries won’t follow, and we’ll put all of our international companies in jeopardy, which harms the American economy,” Mr. Manchin told a West Virginia radio station on Friday. “So we took that off the table.”Mr. Manchin’s reversal, couched in the language used by Republican opponents of the deal, is a blow to Ms. Yellen, who spent months getting more than 130 countries on board. It is also a defeat for President Biden and Democratic leaders in the Senate, who pushed hard to raise tax rates on many multinational corporations in hopes of leading the world in an effort to stop companies from shifting jobs and income to minimize their tax bills.The agreement would have ushered in the most sweeping changes to global taxation in decades, including raising taxes on many large corporations and changing how technology companies are taxed. The two-pronged approach would entail countries enacting a 15 percent minimum tax so that companies pay a rate of at least that much on their global profits no matter where they set up shop. It would also allow governments to tax the world’s largest and most profitable companies based on where their goods and services were sold, not where their headquarters were.Failure to get agreement at home creates a mess both for the Biden administration and for multinational corporations. Many other countries are likely to press ahead to ratify the deal, but some may now be emboldened to hold out, fracturing the coalition and potentially opening the door for some countries to continue marketing themselves as corporate tax havens.For now, the situation will allow for the continued aggressive use of global tax avoidance strategies by companies like the pharmaceutical giant AbbVie. A Senate Finance Committee report this month found that the company made three-quarters of its sales to American customers in 2020, yet reported only 1 percent of its income in the United States for tax purposes — a move that allowed it to slash its effective tax rate to about half of the 21 percent American corporate income tax rate.Not changing international tax laws could also sow new uncertainty for large tech companies, like Google and Amazon, and other businesses that earn money from consumers in countries where they do not have many employees or physical offices. Part of the global agreement was meant to give those companies more certainty on which countries could tax them, and how much they would have to pay.America’s refusal to take part would be a significant setback for Ms. Yellen, whose role in getting the deal done was viewed as her signature diplomatic achievement. For months last year, she lobbied nations around the world, from Ireland to India, on the merits of the tax agreement, only to see her own political party decline to heed her calls to get on board.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe of Ireland met in Washington last month.Andrew Harnik/Associated PressAfter Mr. Manchin’s comments, the Treasury Department said it was not giving up on the agreement.“The United States remains committed to finalizing a global minimum tax,” Michael Kikukawa, a Treasury spokesman, said in a statement. “It’s too important for our economic strength and competitiveness to not finalize this agreement, and we’ll continue to look at every avenue possible to get it done.”Jared Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters at the White House on Monday that Mr. Biden “remains fully committed” to participating in a global tax agreement.Understand What Happened to Biden’s Domestic AgendaCard 1 of 6‘Build Back Better.’ More

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    Veterans of Carter-Era Inflation Warn That Biden Has Few Tools to Tame Prices

    President Biden and Democrats face political peril as costs keep rising and midterm elections loom.WASHINGTON — When inflation surged in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter convened his top economic advisers for weekly lunch meetings in which they tended to offer overly optimistic forecasts of how high prices would rise.But the political consequences of rising prices could not be escaped: By 1978, Democrats had lost seats in the House and Senate. A year later, Mr. Carter’s Treasury secretary, W. Michael Blumenthal, was ousted in a cabinet shake-up. In 1980, Mr. Carter lost his re-election bid in a landslide as the Federal Reserve, intent on bringing inflation down, raised interest rates so aggressively that it tipped the economy into a painful recession.President Biden and the Democrats in power now face a similar predicament as they scramble to tame inflation after a year of telling Americans that price gains would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has pressed oil refineries to ramp up production, proposed a three-month gas tax holiday and called on the Federal Reserve to do what is needed to cool an overheating economy. But to veterans of the Carter administration, the echoes of the past call for a greater sense of urgency from Mr. Biden despite his limited power to bring prices down.“The basic problem that this president faces is really not too dissimilar from the one that confronted Carter,” said Mr. Blumenthal, who is 96 and divides his time between Princeton, N.J., and Germany, where he was born. “President Biden faces this dilemma, and it’s certainly my hope that he will choose clearly, choose decisively and be very clear not only about the fact that he recognizes that inflation has to be dealt with, but that he is really willing to support painful steps to do that.”That pain could be severe if the Fed, as economists increasingly expect, is forced to tip the economy into recession in order to bring inflation to heel. The central bank has already begun raising interest rates quickly and signaled it will do whatever it takes to restore “price stability” as it tries to avoid the mistakes of the 1970s.Veterans of the Carter administration say Mr. Biden would be wise to also learn from the past and avoid half-measures that have popular appeal but do little to resolve the underlying problem, as well as forgoing large spending initiatives.The United States has been buffeted by soaring prices this year as supply chain disruptions that emerged during the pandemic coincided with a surge in food and energy prices spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Consumer Price Index picked up by 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, as price increases climbed at the fastest pace in more than 40 years. Gas hit $5 per gallon in June and is now averaging around $4.80.The dynamic has parallels to the 1970s, when the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 and the Iranian revolution of 1979 curtailed oil supply so severely that it fueled shortages, sending gas prices soaring. Inflation peaked at 14.6 percent in 1980 before easing as Paul A. Volcker, who was the Fed chair, aggressively raised interest rates to nearly 20 percent and triggered a recession that eventually tamed inflation.The Carter administration tried an array of measures to contain rising inflation that proved ineffective. Among them was a scheme to encourage businesses to voluntarily cap wages and prices, a release of grain reserves to smooth food prices and a call for deficit reduction.In an impassioned “fireside chat” to the nation in February 1977, Mr. Carter urged Americans to embrace conservation to cope with energy shortages and rising fuel costs.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What’s driving inflation in the United States? What can slow the rapid price gains? Here’s what to know.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Greedflation: Some experts say that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Changing Behaviors: From driving fewer miles to downgrading vacations, Americans are making changes to their spending because of inflation. Here’s how five households are coping.“All of us must learn to waste less energy,” Mr. Carter said. “Simply by keeping our thermostats, for instance, at 65 degrees in the daytime and 55 degrees at night, we could save half the current shortage of natural gas.”Mr. Blumenthal said Mr. Biden should heed the lessons of Mr. Carter’s failed attempts to curb inflation by avoiding measures that are counterproductive. He urged Mr. Biden to support a substantial interest rate increase and to abandon his sweeping legislative package in favor of deficit reduction, which some economists argue could dampen prices by slowing growth depending on how it is approached.“Inflation fighting comes first,” said Mr. Blumenthal, who escaped Nazi Germany and lived in Shanghai during a period of hyperinflation in the 1940s. “He has to show the recognition to the public that inflation has lasting deleterious effects on the economy and that by trying to take half measures now, you merely prolong the pain of these effects.”Mr. Carter, center, with Mr. Blumenthal, second from right, at the White House in 1977. “The basic problem that this president faces is really not too dissimilar from the one that confronted Carter,” Mr. Blumenthal said. Bettman/Getty ImagesMr. Biden has acknowledged that inflation could be persistent and has said his administration is doing what it can to ease price pressures. He has primarily blamed President Vladimir V. Putin and his invasion of Ukraine for price increases but has also faulted American oil refineries and even gas stations. As travelers set out for the July Fourth holiday weekend, Mr. Biden accused gas station owners of profiteering and urged them to lower their prices.“Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you’re paying for the product,” Mr. Biden said on Twitter.The Biden administration has been looking for ways to lower oil prices globally. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has been pressing her European counterparts to impose a price cap on Russian oil exports, and the Group of 7 industrialized nations agreed last week to explore the idea.Some of the proposals for easing the pain of inflation on Americans, such as the gas tax holiday or student loan debt forgiveness, have been dismissed by economists who say they might make inflation worse. Others have been criticized, like Mr. Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, which some have called pandering to a state that the president once likened to a “pariah” over its role in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a prominent dissident. Mr. Biden said last week that he would not ask the Saudis to increase oil production.C. Fred Bergsten, the assistant secretary for international affairs at the Treasury Department from 1977 to 1981, said the United States should avoid the kind of domestic oil price controls that were in place during the 1970s and that the Carter administration eventually abandoned in 1979. Describing them as an “abysmal failure,” Mr. Bergsten said they distorted energy markets.“One lesson from the Carter administration is don’t do that,” Mr. Bergsten, 81, said. “Energy price controls discourage production and held down the supply side over time.”Mr. Bergsten suggested that rolling back some of the Trump-era tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese goods that economists say have driven up costs for American consumers could offer some marginal relief from inflation. He also thinks Democrats should consider tax increases that would be targeted mostly at the wealthy to reduce the pent-up demand in the economy that continues to push prices higher. Proposals such as the gas tax holiday would most likely just fuel more inflation, he predicted, by giving drivers more money to spend, and would make the Biden administration look desperate by resorting to gimmicks.“Even if Biden doesn’t have many alternatives to deal with it, the image is of a lack of decisive and effective management of the country and the economy,” said Mr. Bergsten, who made several trips to Saudi Arabia in the 1970s to try to get Riyadh to boost oil production.The moment is politically perilous for Mr. Biden, with the November midterm elections approaching, and politics is also complicating the federal response.Republicans have realized the political power of rising prices, seizing on inflation as a key talking point ahead of the midterms, often comparing Mr. Biden to Mr. Carter.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    U.S. Scrutinizes Swiss Currency Practices

    The Treasury Department declined to label any country a currency manipulator, but singled out Switzerland as an offender in its semiannual foreign exchange report.WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department said on Friday that it was concerned that some of America’s trading partners were taking actions to weaken their currencies and gain unfair trade advantages against the United States — but declined to label any country a currency manipulator.In its semiannual foreign exchange report, the department singled out Switzerland, which in 2020 was deemed a manipulator, as a worst offender and said it was closely watching the foreign exchange practices of Taiwan and Vietnam. Department officials have been involved in “enhanced bilateral engagement” with all three countries in recent months.“The administration continues to strongly advocate for our major trading partners to carefully calibrate policy tools to support a strong and sustainable global recovery,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement. “An uneven global recovery is not a resilient recovery.”The United States uses three sets of thresholds to determine if a country is weakening the value of its currency. It has broad discretion to determine if a country is manipulating the exchange rate between its currency and the dollar to gain a competitive advantage in international trade.A government can suppress the value of its currency by selling it in foreign exchange markets and stockpiling dollars. By depressing the value of its own currency, a country can make its exports cheaper and more competitive to sell on global markets.The Trump administration labeled Switzerland and Vietnam currency manipulators in 2020, but the Biden administration, seeking a more diplomatic approach, removed the designation.A Treasury official said the United States has had constructive talks with Switzerland over the last year, noting that its economy is facing unusual factors because it is a small and open European economy with a currency, the franc, that is considered a safe haven.Currency manipulation labels are supposed to set off talks with the United States and can involve input from the International Monetary Fund. If the concerns of the Treasury Department are not resolved, the United States can impose an array of penalties, including tariffs.Mark Sobel, the chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, noted that the more pressing issue in global currency markets was the strength of the dollar.“The real issue these days is the sharp dollar appreciation, which has clearly been generated by monetary policy divergences between a tightening Fed and others who are less aggressive,” Mr. Sobel said. “It would be hard to fault others.”The United States added Vietnam and Taiwan to its currency “monitoring lists,” a tally that includes China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Mexico.The Treasury Department said it was closely watching the foreign exchange activities of China’s state-owned banks. It criticized China for providing “very limited transparency” over how it managed its currency. More

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    Seizing Russian Assets to Help Ukraine Sets Off White House Debate

    WASHINGTON — The devastation in Ukraine brought on by Russia’s war has leaders around the world calling for seizing more than $300 billion of Russian central bank assets and handing the funds to Ukraine to help rebuild the country.But the movement, which has gained momentum in parts of Europe, has run into resistance in the United States. Top Biden administration officials warned that diverting those funds could be illegal and discourage other countries from relying on the United States as a haven for investment.The cost to rebuild Ukraine is expected to be significant. Its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, estimated this month that it could be $600 billion after months of artillery, missile and tank attacks — meaning that even if all of Russia’s central bank assets abroad were seized, they would cover only half the costs.In a joint statement last week, finance ministers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia urged the European Union to create a way to fund the rebuilding of cities and towns in Ukraine with frozen Russian central bank assets, so that Russia can be “held accountable for its actions and pay for the damage caused.”Confiscating the Russian assets was also a central topic at a gathering of top economic officials from the Group of 7 nations at a meeting this month, with the idea drawing public support from Germany and Canada.The United States, which has led a global effort to isolate Russia with stiff sanctions, has been far more cautious in this case. Internally, the Biden administration has been debating whether to join an effort to seize the assets, which include dollars and euros that Moscow deposited before its invasion of Ukraine. Only a fraction of the funds are kept in the United States; much of it was deposited in Europe, including at the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland.Russia had hoped that keeping more than $600 billion in central bank reserves would help bolster its economy against sanctions. But it made the mistake of sending half those funds out of the country. By all accounts, Russian officials were stunned at the speed at which they were frozen — a very different reaction from the one it faced after annexing Crimea in 2014, when it took a year for weak sanctions to be imposed.Those funds have been frozen for the past three months, keeping the government of President Vladimir V. Putin from repatriating the money or spending it on the war. But seizing or actually taking ownership of them is another matter.At a news conference in Germany this month, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen appeared to close the door on the United States’ ability to participate in any effort to seize and redistribute those assets. Ms. Yellen, a former central banker who initially had reservations about immobilizing the assets, said that while the concept was being studied, she believed that seizing the funds would violate U.S. law.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has cautioned against seizing Russian central bank assets to help pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction.Ina Fassbender/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“I think it’s very natural that given the enormous destruction in Ukraine and huge rebuilding costs that they will face, that we will look to Russia to help pay at least a portion of the price that will be involved,” she said. “It’s not something that is legally permissible in the United States.”But within the Biden administration, one official said, there was reluctance “to have any daylight between us and the Europeans on sanctions.” So the United States is seeking to find some kind of common ground while analyzing whether a seizure of central bank funds might, for example, encourage other countries to put their central bank reserves in other currencies and keep it out of American hands.In addition to the legal obstacles, Ms. Yellen and others have argued that it could make nations reluctant to keep their reserves in dollars, for fear that in future conflicts the United States and its allies would confiscate the funds. Some national security officials in the Biden administration say they are concerned that if negotiations between Ukraine and Russia begin, there would be no way to offer significant sanctions relief to Moscow once the reserves have been drained from its overseas accounts.Treasury officials suggested before Ms. Yellen’s comments that the United States had not settled on a firm position about the fate of the assets. Several senior officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal debates in the Biden administration, suggested that no final decision had been made. One official said that while seizing the funds to pay for reconstruction would be satisfying and warranted, the precedent it would set — and its potential effect on the United States’ status as the world’s safest place to leave assets — was a deep concern.In explaining Ms. Yellen’s comments, a Treasury spokeswoman pointed to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, which says that the United States can confiscate foreign property if the president determines that the country is under attack or “engaged in armed hostilities.”Legal scholars have expressed differing views about that reading of the law.Laurence H. Tribe, an emeritus law professor at Harvard University, pointed out that an amendment to International Emergency Economic Powers Act that passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gives the president broader discretion to determine if a foreign threat warrants confiscation of assets. President Biden could cite Russian cyberattacks against the United States to justify liquidating the central bank reserves, Mr. Tribe said, adding that the Treasury Department was misreading the law.“If Secretary Yellen believes this is illegal, I think she’s flatly wrong,” he said. “It may be that they are blending legal questions with their policy concerns.”Mr. Tribe pointed to recent cases of the United States confiscating and redistributing assets from Afghanistan, Iran and Venezuela as precedents that showed Russia’s assets did not deserve special safeguards.Russia-Ukraine War: Key DevelopmentsCard 1 of 4On the ground. More

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    U.S. Will Start Blocking Russia’s Bond Payments to American Investors

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will start blocking Russia from paying American bondholders, increasing the likelihood of the first default of Russia’s foreign debt in more than a century.An exemption to the sweeping sanctions that the United States imposed on Russia as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine has allowed Moscow to keep paying its debts since February. But that carve-out will expire on Wednesday, and the United States will not extend it, according to a notice published by the Treasury Department on Tuesday. As a result, Russia will be unable to make billions of dollars of debt and interest payments on bonds held by foreign investors.The move represents an escalation of U.S. sanctions at a moment when the war in Ukraine continues to drag on, with Russia showing few signs of relenting. Biden administration officials had debated whether to extend what’s known as a general license, which has allowed Russia to pay interest on the debt it sold. By extending the waiver, Russia would have continued to deplete its U.S. dollar reserves and American investors would have continued to receive their guaranteed payments. But officials, who have been trying to intensify pressure on Russia’s economy, ultimately determined that a Russian default would not have a significant impact on the global economy.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen signaled how the Biden administration was leaning at a news conference in Europe last week, when she said that the exemption was created to allow for an “orderly transition” so that investors could sell securities. It was always intended to be for a limited time, she said. And she noted that Russia’s ability to borrow money from foreign investors has already essentially been cut off through other sanctions imposed by the United States.“If Russia is unable to find a legal way to make these payments, and they technically default on their debt, I don’t think that really represents a significant change in Russia’s situation,” Ms. Yellen said. “They’re already cut off from global capital markets, and that would continue.”Although the economic impact of a Russian default might be minimal, it was an outcome that Russia had been trying to avoid and the Biden administration’s move represents an escalation of U.S. sanctions. Russia has already unsuccessfully tried to make bond payments in rubles and has threatened to take legal action, arguing that it should not be deemed in default on its debt if it is not allowed to make payments.“We can only speculate what worries the Kremlin most about defaulting: the stain on Putin’s record of economic stewardship, reputational damage, the financial and legal dominoes a default sets in motion and so on,” said Tim Samples, a legal studies professor at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and an expert on sovereign debt. “But one thing is rather clear: Russia was keen to avoid this scenario, willing even to make payments with precious non-sanctioned foreign currency to avoid a major default.”Sanctions experts have estimated that Russia has about $20 billion worth of outstanding debt that is not held in rubles. It is not clear if the European Union and Britain will follow the lead of the United States, which would exert even more pressure on Russia and leave a broader swath of investors unpaid, but most of the recent sanctions actions have been tightly coordinated.The prospect of a Russian default has already saddled some big U.S. investors with losses. Pimco, the investment management firm, has seen the value of its Russian bond holdings decline by more than $1 billion this year and pension funds and mutual funds with exposure to emerging market debt have also experienced declines.In the near term, Russia has two foreign-currency bond payments due on Friday, both of which have clauses in their contracts that allow for repayment in other currencies if “for reasons beyond its control” Russia is unable to make payments in the originally agreed currency.Russia owes about $71 million in interest payments for a dollar-denominated bond that will mature in 2026. The contract has a provision to be paid in euros, British pounds and Swiss francs. Russia also owes 26.5 million euros ($28 million) in interest payments for a euro-denominated bond that will mature in 2036, which can be paid back in alternative currencies including the ruble. Both contracts have a 30-day grace period for payments to reach creditors.The Russian finance ministry said on Friday that it had sent the funds to its payment agent, the National Settlement Depository, a Moscow-based institution, a week before the payment was due.The finance ministry said it had fulfilled these debt obligations. But more transactions are required with international financial institutions before the payments can reach bondholders.Adam M. Smith, who served as a senior sanctions official in the Obama administration’s Treasury Department, said he expected that Russia would most likely default sometime in July and that a wave of lawsuits from Russia and its investors were likely to ensue.Although a default will inflict some psychological damage on Russia, he said, it will also raise borrowing costs for ordinary Russians and harm foreign investors who were not involved in Russia’s invasion Ukraine.“The interesting question to me is, What is the policy goal here?” Mr. Smith said. “That’s what’s not entirely clear to me.”Alan Rappeport reported from Washington, and Eshe Nelson from London. More

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    G7 Nations Pledge $20 Billion to Ukraine

    KÖNIGSWINTER, Germany — The Group of 7 economic powers agreed on Friday to provide nearly $20 billion to support Ukraine’s economy over the coming months to help keep the country’s government running while it fights to repel a Russian invasion.In a joint statement after two days of meetings, finance ministers from the Group of 7 affirmed their commitment to help Ukraine with a mix of grants and loans. Ukraine needs approximately $5 billion per month to maintain basic government services, according to the International Monetary Fund.The $19.8 billion of financing was agreed on after the United States, which is contributing more than $9 billion in short-term financing, pressed its allies to do more to help secure Ukraine’s future. The statement did not break down how much the other Group of 7 nations will contribute.The European Commission, however, previously agreed to provide up to 9 billion euros of financial assistance. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation plan to provide an additional $3.4 billion to Ukrainian state-owned enterprises and the private sector.“We will continue to stand by Ukraine throughout this war and beyond and are prepared to do more as needed,” the statement said.The economic policymakers also acknowledged that more fallout from the war lies ahead, and they pledged on Friday to keep markets open as they combat rising food and energy prices around the world. They also said that their central banks would be closely monitoring inflation measures and the impact that rising prices are having on their economies.“We are very concerned about crises and macroeconomic developments,” Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister, said during a closing news conference on Friday, according to an English translation.The two-day summit on the outskirts of Bonn came at a pivotal time for the world economy, with concern mounting that a combination of war, supply chain problems and the lingering effects of the pandemic could lead to a contraction in global output. Finance ministers discussed ways to keep pressure on Russia while minimizing the damage to their economies as they debated the merits of a European embargo on Russian oil and whether seized Russian assets could be used to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction.“The values of the international community have been totally discarded by Russia,” Mr. Lindner said.Officials from the world’s leading advanced economies discussed other areas for possible collaboration, such as combating climate change and making progress on a global tax agreement that was reached last year but faces implementation problems.But the complicated mix of foreign policy challenges and economic headwinds dominated the meetings.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned this week that Europe could be vulnerable to a recession because of its exposure to Russian energy. She does not expect a recession in the United States but said on Thursday that a “soft landing” was not guaranteed as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to tame inflation.“I think it’s conceivable there could be a soft landing, that requires both skill and luck,” Ms. Yellen told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 7 summit. “It’s a very difficult economic situation.” More