Ukraine says debt restructuring talks with creditors picking up pace

KIEV (Reuters) – Talks between Ukraine and a creditors’ committee aimed at agreeing a restructuring of Kiev’s huge debts are accelerating and the two sides will hold a teleconference on June 5 to assess progress, the Ukrainian finance ministry said on Friday.

Near-bankrupt Ukraine is in negotiation with bondholders to restructure sovereign and state-guaranteed debt to plug a $15.3 billion funding gap and keep on track to receive credit under a $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout program.

The former Soviet republic, whose national reserves have been sapped by economic mismanagement, corruption and now war with Russian-backed separatists in the east, is pressing its creditors to accept a writedown on principal owed as part of a restructuring deal.

It says it will not be able to meet the targets set out in the IMF-led rescue package without cutting the bonds’ principal.

But a creditors’ committee, led by Franklin Templeton and representing about $9 billion of debt, resists the idea of a writedown — or “haircut” — of the bonds’ principal.

It has put forward a plan which would save Ukraine $15.8 billion, or more than what it is aiming for, via extending bond maturities by up to 10 years and by cutting coupon payments in initial years, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Friday.

About $23 billion worth of debt is earmarked for restructuring.

Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko said earlier on Friday in Kiev that the talks were very tough and a range of measures would be required for Ukraine to achieve debt stabilization.

The finance ministry statement issued on Friday night suggested that things might come to a head next week.

It said the ministry was pleased “that engagement between both parties on restructuring Ukraine’s sovereign debt is accelerating”.”Next week will see intensified talks take place between advisers in London with a follow up call with the principals to assess progress on Friday, 5 June,” it said.

“We reiterate Ukraine’s commitment to negotiate in a collaborative and good faith manner as per international principles,” it added.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Richard Balmforth and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Andrew Roche)