Surprise! Biggest investor in the Russian economy is… the United States

US investment in Russia was 13 times bigger than official numbers show, statistics released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have revealed.

The data shows that the US was the largest investor in Russia, accounting for 8.9 percent or $39.1 billion of the $441.1 billion total accumulated investments at the end of 2017, Russian business outlet RBC stated, citing Wednesday’s UNCTAD report.

This is 13 times more than Russia’s official estimates. The Central Bank of Russia had earlier said that US investment in the Russian economy amounted to $3.05 billion in 2017 and $500,000 more a year later. The US Department of Commerce figures on investment to Russia are also almost three times lower than the UNCTAD statistics, amounting to nearly $13.9 billion.

The unexpected differentiation between the figures can be easily explained, however. Apart from official direct investments, the UN body’s report covered so-called ultimate investors, meaning that a country and its businesses may direct funds through one or several conduits. Therefore, real cross-border financial flows from the US to Russia, as well as between other countries, could be far more significant than direct investment data suggests.

For example, some foreign investments, including American ones, are made through affiliated companies in Europe. However, in the official Russian statistics, they will be counted as investments from the country where such a firm is located.

The difference between the official statistics and real situation in trade between the US and Russia was earlier noted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), which represents the trade and investment interests of its 600 members in Russia. The organization’s data, which was based on a survey of 75 companies, showed that the volume of direct US businesses’ investment in Russia amounted to more than $85 billion over the period of their work in the country.

The UNCTAD report notes that Russia remained one of the 20 largest recipients of foreign capital inflows, but is far behind the top runners, the US and China, which enjoyed $252 billion and $139 billion in investments respectively.