Lawmakers say Minnesota should sell Russian investments

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and Ukrainian-Minnesotans said Thursday that the state should sell its investments in Russian holdings to sanction the country for its invasion of Ukraine.

Minnesota's pension funds and other investment accounts have an estimated $53 million in Russian-held securities. House members filed their bill Thursday, which requires Minnesota's State Board of Investment to sell 50 percent of its Russian holdings within nine months and to completely divest from Russian within 15 months. It bans the state from reinvesting in Russian securities permanently. 

"I woke up the morning after the Russian invasion and watched TV, and instead of feeling helpless, I knew we had power in Minnesota to do something about this," said state Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, the lead House author.

The legislation marks a rare moment of bipartisanship in the state Capitol. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said she expected a vote on the bill within 7-10 days. A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said they were operating on the same timeline.

The measure also prohibits state agencies from holding contracts with Russian entities. Gov. Tim Walz has issued an executive order directing state agencies to conduct a review of their contracts, and that effort is ongoing, a spokeswoman for the DFL governor said.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman

Russian securities have plunged in value during the two-week invasion of Ukraine. Selling the investments now would mean taking a significant loss, but lawmakers and other supporters of the proposal said that was far from their minds.

"If it’s $53 million, $530 million or $53, I think the message is the appropriate one that sovereignty matters," said state Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia. 

The State Board of Investment is obligated to get the highest possible return for plan participants, though the Legislature can order a shift in strategy through state law. In previous years, lawmakers have used the divesture sanction against strongmen in Sudan and Iran. 

Two Ukrainian-Minnesotans stood with the lawmakers and endorsed the move Thursday.

One of them was Luda Anastazievsky, who was born in Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city where Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital this week. Anastazievsky is a public school teacher, so her pension fund is at issue.

"As a public employee, I don't want my money to go to Putin to fuel his war machine," she said. "Russia has to be stopped. Our state can't provide defensive weapons, but it can fight back and help Ukraine."

Anastazievsky, who chairs the Minnesota Ukrainian-American committee, said community leaders met with Walz last week in northeast Minneapolis. The governor has encouraged the legislature to pass the divesture bill.

Ukrainian-Minnesotans also asked Walz to accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. But that process is driven by the U.S. State Department, a Walz spokeswoman said.