UPDATE 10 (2014-10-20): According to RIA Novosti, the Russians and North Koreans have conducted their first transaction in rubles:
The first transactions in rubles between Russia and North Korea were carried out in October, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said in a statement Monday.
“Russia and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] have begun carrying out transactions in rubles in the framework of agreements, reached during the 6th meeting of the intergovernmental committee on commercial-economic relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK, headed by the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East Alexander Galushka,” the statement posted on ministry’s website reads.
In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law ratifying an agreement on settlement of the DPRK’s debt to Russia. Russia agreed to write off 90 percent of the North Korea’s debt to the former Soviet Union, which amounted to $10.94 billion as of September 17, 2012. The remaining 10 percent ($1.09 billion) is to be paid off in 40 installments over the next 20 years.
No word yet on what was purchased.
UPDATE 9 (2014-6-5): RIA Novosti reports that Russia and the DPRK will begin negotiating bilateral trade contracts in rubles rather than dollars. According to the article:
Russia and North Korea are preparing to launch bilateral transactions in the Russian ruble this month to boost trade turnover between the two nations to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Minister said Thursday.
In May 2014, Moscow agreed to write off 10.94 billion of Pyongyang’s Soviet debt with the remaining 1.09 billion to be paid in installments over the next 20 years.
“The decision to write off DPRK’s debt to Russia has opened up the way to resolve a wide range of issues that was previously blocked by this debt load. Ruble transactions between Russia and DPRK will begin as early as this month, with first bank accounts to be set up in Russian banks,” Far East’s Development Minister Alexander Galushko said.
North Korea currently uses euros as the official currency in settling overseas trade deals.
The announcement came on the heels of a meeting in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok where Galushko took part in the sixth annual session of the Russian-Korean standing commission, an intergovernmental agency on trade, economic and scientific cooperation.
The minister added that Russia hoped to ramp up its trade turnover with Korea to $1 billion, up from the current $112 million. “It is not much,” he pointed out, saying that a greater degree of Korea’s commitment to the existing bilateral projects could whip up sales to $400-500 million.
UPDATE 8 (2014-4-19): Russia has reportedly [formally] written of the DPRK’s debt. According to Reuters:
The State Duma lower house on Friday ratified a 2012 agreement to write off the bulk of North Korea’s debt. It said the total debt stood at $10.96 billion as of Sept. 17, 2012.
The rest of the debt, $1.09 billion, would be redeemed during the next 20 years, to be paid in equal instalments every six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be managed by Russia’s state development bank, Vnesheconombank.
Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian media that the money could be used to fund mutual projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a railway to South Korea.
More at the Voice of Russia.
UPDATE 7 (2014-3-20): Russian Duma committee recommends write off $10 b DPRK debt. According to Voice of Russia:
Committee of the State Duma for the budget and taxes has issued a recommendation to the MPs to ratify an agreement between the Russian government and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on settling the North Korea’s debt to Russia on the Soviet-era loans issued to that country.
The document that was submitted for ratification by the Russian government features the agreements reached at the negotiations that lasted almost twenty years and took account of the special features of financial, political and economic relations between Russia and North Korea.
Debt settlement embraces all the categories of reciprocal financial claims and obligations of the former USSR and the DPRK, with the precise parameters registered on the date when the agreement is signed.
Overall amount of the DPRK’s financial obligations to Russia stood at an equivalent of $ 10.96 billion as of September 17, 2012.
“This amount is rather conventional in many ways – not only because of the exchange rate but also due to the interest rates accumulated over a huge period or, in other words, a non-return of the loans because many of them were issued in the 1980’s,” Sergei Storchak, a deputy minister of finance said at the session.
“We applied a standard pattern in which we write off 90% of the debts amount and 10% is left over,” he said. “We agreed to utilize this 10% for financing the joint projects implemented on the North Korean territory.”
There projects are related to the energy sector, healthcare, and the country’s foodstuff security.
“Frankly speaking, we hope we’ll be able to attain agreement in the course of future joint work on allotting plots of land for construction of a gas pipeline on the DPRK territory,” Storchak said adding that Russia’s major producer and exporter of natural gas, OAO Gazprom, continues eyeing a possible integration in the Korean market of gas.
For this purpose, it will need some land acquisitions and “a part of the debt can be utilized for this purpose,” Storchak said.
Russian government officials say settlement of debts on the loans issued by the former USSR with the observance of conditions coordinated with Pyongyang pursues three objectives.
In the first place, it removes the problem of North Korea’s outstanding debt to the Russian Federation that was an irritating factor for bilateral relations for quite some time.
Secondly, the agreements that have been reached enable Russia to exert noticeable influence on the DPRK’s social and economic development through projects in healthcare, education, and the energy sector, since Russia will have a say in the decisions on their financing.
Thirdly, owing to the presence of big enough debt claims, Russia will have an opportunity to take part in multilateral talks on settling the North Korean debts in the format of the Paris Club of Sovereign Debtors and to influence the terms of debt repayments in Pyongyang’s interests.
You can read more about the gas pipeline here.
UPDATE 6 (2012-9-18): RIA Novosti reports that the DPRK and Russia have signed a debt deal. According to the article:
Russia and North Korea have signed a deal on settlement of the DPRK’s $11 billion debts to Russia, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Prime news agency on Tuesday.
“It was signed yesterday,” Storchak said.
Russia and North Korea have been negotiating over the issue of Pyongyang’s debt to Russia, left over from the Soviet era, for the last four years without result. Russia did not rule out writing off part of the debt and either rescheduling the remainder or offsetting it against investment.
Storchak previously said it was understood a debt settlement would involve a conversion of the ruble debt into dollars, giving an initial discount of around 90 percent of the debt.
The remaining debt of over $1 billion would be used in a “debt for aid exchange” plan to assist with joint education, health and energy projects in North Korea.
Here is coverage of the deal in KCNA:
Agreement on Debt Settlement between DPRK, Russia Signed
Pyongyang, September 18 (KCNA) — An agreement on settling the debt incurred by the loan provided by the former Soviet Union which the DPRK owes to the Russian Federation was signed between the governments of the two countries in Moscow on Monday.
The agreement was inked by Vice-Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho from the DPRK side and Vice-Minister of Finance Sergey Storchak from the Russian side.
The conclusion of the agreement on the debt settlement would create fresh conditions for boosting the relations of economic cooperation between the two countries in the future.
The Wall Street Journal offers some additional details on the deal:
Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Interfax that the “restructuring conditions are standard in connection with our membership in the Paris Club, with a conversion into U.S. dollars at an appropriate discounted rate with the balance of the debt to be used for a debt-for-aid program.”
The $11 billion figure was reached by using the Soviet conversion rate of 67 kopecks to the dollar, the ministry said, which at today’s exchange rate would make the debt just $238 million. Russia has reached similar agreements over the years with many former Soviet-clients in larger part because there was little chance the loans would ever be repaid.
Russian and North Korea had resumed negotiations over the decades-old debt in August 2011, following a meeting between former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. During the meeting, the two sides agreed to pursue a pipeline project that would send Russian gas to South Korea via North Korea.
The following June, a preliminary agreement was reached and the finance ministry submitted a proposal to the Russian government for approval, Interfax reported.
Experts say the settlement of the long-stalled debt talks represented a change in political will on both sides and would help spur along the pipeline project as well as other railway and electricity deals.
“The decision on a settlement of debt is a significant step as it removes the obstacles for cooperation. Now credits can be granted,” said Alexander Vorontsov, an expert on North Korea at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Read more below: