IMF approves $17 billion bailout for Ukraine amid big risks

The International Monetary Fund’s board signed off on a $17 billion two-year aid program for Ukraine on Wednesday to help the former Soviet republic’s economy recover after months of upheaval as it continues to face geopolitical uncertainty.

The IMF aid will allow the immediate disbursement of $3.2 billion to Kyiv and unlock further credits from other donors of about $15 billion, intended to help Ukraine stabilize its economy in the middle of its worst civil turmoil since independence in 1991.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde admitted the program faced risks, including from the government’s ability to carry out the politically unpopular measures necessary to get its finances in order.

“In particular, further escalation of tensions with Russia and unrest in the east of the country pose a substantial risk to the economic outlook,” news agency Reuters quotes her as saying.

Pro-Moscow separatists seized government offices in more Ukrainian towns on Wednesday, a further sign authorities in Kyiv are losing control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland bordering Russia.

The unrest in the east follows months of anti-government protests and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region, which had already pushed Ukraine’s economy to the brink of bankruptcy and a likely economic contraction this year.

Kyiv is also in a dispute with Moscow over the price it will pay for natural gas exports in the future, and over about $2.2 billion Russia says it is owed for prior gas purchases.

Ukraine’s economy may further suffer if sanctions intensify on Russia, a key export market. Western nations have placed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian individuals and companies over what they see as meddling in Ukraine.

“Anything that undermines the economic situation of (Ukraine) will jeopardize the implementation of the program, which is why we very strongly encourage the parties to negotiate, to come to terms,” Lagarde told reporters after the board’s decision.

The IMF on Wednesday slashed its already modest growth forecast for Russia, warning that sanctions were scaring off investors and pushing the economy towards recession., following

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