Battling sanctions freeze, European banks try to keep Russian clients
* Russian syndicated bond market has largely shut down
* European banks with Russian units want to keep business
* U.S., UK banks more reticent due to laws, smaller exposure
By Sandrine Bradley
LONDON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - In the face of sanctions that have frozen international lending to Russia, a small group of European banks are trying to refinance existing loans to big companies there in order to protect their business.
They have their work cut out. Washington and Brussels have excluded Russia's state banks and top energy firms from capital markets as punishment for the country's support for separatist rebels in Ukraine and their action - unprecedented in the post-Cold war era - means even companies not on the blacklist will struggle to raise large loans outside their domestic market.
Nonetheless, banks such as Raffeisen and Unicredit are attempting to refinance existing debt to preserve their relations with clients and with that, their sizeable business in the country.
Bank Austria, the central and eastern Europe (CEE) arm of Italian bank UniCredit, said this week it expects to keep making solid profits in Russia.
"It is a compliance complexity for sure, a very significant effort, but I think it is our approach and culture that any requirement from the sanctions we respect to the extreme detail," said Chief Financial Officer Francesco Giordano. Continued...