* EBRD keen to help ensure that bank system survives crisis with Russia
* EBRD still forecasting economy will shrink 7 percent this year
* Graphic of Ukraine's impact on Russia: r.reuters.com/vyr37v
By Marc Jones
LONDON, June 13 (Reuters) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expects to start talks on building stakes in Ukrainian banks in the next few months as it looks to ensure that Ukraine’s financial system does not rupture in the wake of tensions with Russia.
In an interview with Reuters, Francis Malige, the EBRD’s new head for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, said the situation in Ukraine looked to have stabilised in recent weeks, although it was still far too early for optimism.
The EBRD’s latest forecasts, issued in May, have Ukraine’s economy shrinking 7 percent this year.
“We don’t see at this stage an element that should push us to revise them in any direction,” Malige said. “If I was a rating agency I would say it’s not on negative watch, but it’s not on positive watch either.”
He said the EBRD’s involvement in a big road building project, energy initiatives and a metro system upgrade meant it was firmly on track with plans to raise spending in Ukraine in response to its crisis to a billion euros this year.
It was also starting to look at expanding its stakes in Ukrainian banks, part of international efforts to try to prevent the turmoil driving away foreign-owned institutions and crushing the banking system’s general willingness to lend.
“The right time to have these conversations is when the results of the Asset Quality Review (being done by Ukraine’s central bank as part of an IMF aid programme) are known,” said Malige, who was a managing director at BNP Paribas, focused on bank acquisitions, before joining the EBRD in 2010.
“So the conversations should take place starting in the fall.”
The EBRD already has stakes in a small number of Ukraine’s banks, but with the IMF having called for a consolidation of the sector as a condition of a $17 billion aid programme for Ukraine agreed in April, it could be about to become a lot more active.
“It is dependent on banks being willing to work with us. But we can play a part in many different ways: we can invest in equity, we can lend, we can provide guarantees, we can help with the development of local-currency capital markets.”
Most of Ukraine’s major banks are state- or locally-owned. Malige declined to say which banks the EBRD was most likely to get involved with, but said stakes could start being confirmed next year. The EBRD does not take majority stakes in banks, and usually sets a maximum of around 25 percent.
“To successfully negotiate and implement a capital increase in a bank is a process that is not done overnight, so it is more likely to be next year than this year,” Malige said.
After recent talks in Ukraine along the lines of the 2009 Vienna Initiative, which helped to shore up central and eastern European banks at the height of the financial crisis, he said he was confident that international banks would not quit Ukraine.
Some European banks have pulled the plug on Ukrainian subsidiaries since 2008, including Germany’s Commerzbank , Austria’s Erste Bank, Swedbank of Sweden and Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo.
Raiffeisen Research estimated that non-Russian foreign lenders had cut their exposure to 20 percent of Ukraine’s banking assets by 2012, half their share in 2008.
But units of Austria’s Raiffeisen and Italy’s Unicredit remain among the top 10 lenders, and Russian banks including Sberbank, VEB and VTB also have heavy exposure to Ukraine.
“When I look at the parent banks, I see responsible parents,” Malige said. “I don’t see an orphaned bank in Ukraine.” (Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey)