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North Dakota to review state investments with Russian ties amid Ukraine invasion

North Dakota has more than $44 million in investments with ties to Russia, the governor's office announced on Monday.

North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford.
North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford.
Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — More than $44 million of North Dakota's state investments have Russian ties, and on Monday, Feb. 28, the governor's office announced plans to examine investments of public dollars in Russia as the country continues its deadly attacks on Ukraine.

North Dakota investments with "Russian entity exposure" include $8.5 million from the Legacy Fund, $5.1 million from the state's pension pool and $2.3 million from the insurance pool, according to the office of Gov. Doug Burgum.

The North Dakota Board of University and School Lands has about $28.8 million invested in Russian-based companies, Burgum's office said.

The disclosure of the state's investments with ties to Russia came after North Dakota's State Investment Board, which oversees investments of the state's $8.7 billion Legacy Fund , announced it will hold a special meeting this week to discuss the fund's connections to Russia.

Lt. Gov. and State Investment Board Chair Brent Sanford called the special meeting for Thursday, March 3, to discuss the Legacy Fund — the state's oil and gas tax savings account — and investments in Russia amid U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

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"North Dakota stands with the freedom-loving people of Ukraine in opposition to the ongoing attacks by Russian armed forces and President Putin," Burgum said in a statement Monday. "We must do our part to limit the financial resources at Russia’s disposal to discourage these unprovoked and heinous acts of aggression."

Among the state's Legacy Fund investments with ties to Russia is a $500,000 bond issued by the Russian Federation, which was purchased "from a third party on the secondary market," so the sale dollars did not go to the Russian government but to the third party, the governor's office said.

North Dakota also has $914,000 of Legacy Fund dollars invested in Gaz Capital, which is 50% owned by the Russian Federation, the governor's office said.

The governor's office stressed that the amounts of the investments with Russian ties are low in the context of the state's overall investments. The nearly $16 million in state investments with "Russian entity exposure" makes up "less than one-tenth of 1% of the $19.3 billion in total assets under management," the governor's office said.

The Land Board's $28.8 million invested in Russia-based companies equals "less than half of 1% of the board’s total investment assets of more than $6 billion," according to the governor's office.

On Monday, before the special meeting was announced, former Democratic-NPL gubernatorial candidate Shelley Lenz issued a statement calling on state officials to cease any Legacy Fund investments with ties to Russian interests. Lenz said her call to action was prompted by a KX News investigation into the Legacy Fund that showed investments into four Russian bonds.

"There are actions we can take today to help punish Putin and cripple his economy," wrote Lenz, a veterinarian from western North Dakota who lost her bid for governor in 2020. "North Dakota can and must do its part."

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner told The Forum that Legacy Fund dollars with Russian ties occurred because the investments are in companies through the stock market, which in turn have their own Russian interests.

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Wardner said he believes the State Investment Board will look to end the investments with links to Russia, especially because the U.S. has implemented its own sanctions, but that process will likely take time.

The U.S. Treasury has advised American investors to "cease all secondary exchange transactions involving Russia effective March 1 for bonds 'issued after March 1, 2022,'" the governor's office said.

“North Dakota has received, reviewed and is implementing advice from the U.S. Treasury Department related to investments in Russia,” Sanford said. “The situation is fluid and additional guidance is forthcoming.”

Last week, Russian troops invaded neighboring Ukraine. As of Monday, more than 500,000 Ukrainians had fled the country, and dozens of people had been killed, including soldiers on both sides and Ukrainian civilians. Many countries have imposed sanctions against Russia and President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to punish the country and its leader.

Officials say Putin's invasion is the largest war Europe has seen since World War II.

Like Burgum's call to limit financial resources to Russia in his statement regarding the Legacy Fund, elected officials across the U.S. are calling for a boycott of Russian vodka and other spirits in an attempt to punish Russia economically. However, experts say that move is largely symbolic.

The special meeting of the North Dakota State Investment Board will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday in the North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance building in Bismarck.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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