BOZEMAN — Nearly two weeks ago, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that he wanted Montana to divest all Russian assets from the state’s investment pool.
It hasn’t happened yet. It is a big job to identify these assets.
“We just don’t know what the total wallet of the oligarchs is,” said Dr. Vince Smith of Montana State University. “We really don’t know what the total portfolio of large state-run companies in Russia is.”
However, Montana State Board of Investments executive director Dan Villa said the state was able to track everything down.
“We were able to identify through our custodian bank where our assets are and were located, in the case of Russia,” he said.
Here’s how it breaks down: $15 million is invested in Russian companies. Another $200,000 is invested in Belarus and $4.2 million is invested in Ukraine. Investment in Ukraine is important because it may lose value due to the Russian invasion.
There is also a second problem in getting rid of these investments.
“There are either restrictions on the US side or restrictions on the Russian side that basically prohibit us from selling these assets,” Villa said.
Villa explained that Russian stocks were plunging in value, “as Russia became virtually impossible to invest in, which fell relatively quickly.”
So even if Montana could sell those assets now, it wouldn’t be worth it. Villa says the Montana State Board of Investments will instead take a long-term view and wait until it’s legal and more fiscally responsible to act.
Additionally, the state of Montana has a $15 billion investment portfolio. With less than $20 million at stake, the Investment Board says only six ten thousandths of 1% of the money is at risk.
Villa said confidently, “so it won’t be felt by the people of the state of Montana.”
The Montana State Board of Investments says most of the money is in pension funds, while a very small amount is in the Montana State Fund.
Smith says that even if the state cannot immediately sell its Russian assets, announcing its desire to do so is still important.
“In a way, it’s a symbolic effort that is important to many, many people. We have a large Ukrainian population in Montana,” Smith said.
“Taking serious action is great publicity for the state right now. It means that we care about a country that is seven or eight thousand kilometers from us and the people of that country who are tragically mistreated by a belligerent and irresponsible dictator. Smith added. “It’s a great message to send to people who are thinking of moving here, to businesses who are thinking of locating here.”
According to a new CBS News poll, the United States overwhelmingly supports sanctions against Russian oil and gas. In the poll, 77% say they support the sanctions. This support remains strong at 63% even when people learn that it can drive up gas prices. Additionally, the willingness to pay more accordingly reduces race, region, and even income.
The poll shows that 82% of sanctions supporters say they want to help Ukraine and punish Russia. 34% say it’s for patriotic reasons. 26% say they don’t drive enough to be affected and 19% say they can afford to pay more for gas. This adds up to over 100% because people were allowed to give more than one reason for supporting the sanctions.
Smith said Montana’s desire to divest its Russian assets shows the state has a global vision. “We defend democracy in the world”.