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Can Kentucky's retirement systems pull all their Russian investments? For now, it's complicated

Russia Investments
Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP
/
AP
FILE - A food delivery man leaves an exchange office with screen showing the currency exchange rates of U.S. Dollar and Euro to Russian Rubles in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. The ruble plunged to a record low of less than 1 U.S. cent in value Monday after Russia was cut off from the global bank payments system in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr.,File)

Kentucky’s public pensions currently invest more than $60 million in Russia — a tiny fraction of their overall assets — but questions remain about their status amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Both the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the Kentucky Public Pension Authority each have more than $30 million invested in Russia. The numbers may sound imposing, yet they represent only a sliver of the funds both oversee.

Asked about Kentucky investment in Russia, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday it’s a concern but encouraged the trustees making the decisions for those systems to weigh competing factors when examining those investments. The Democrat said he hopes they look at both "the harm that it could cause the pension system, but more important than that, with part of our patriotic duty being to take the necessary steps to stop this Russian aggression."

But David Eager with the Kentucky Public Pension Authority says both the IRS and Kentucky statute say any investment made by the retirement system has to stand on its investment merits.

"Unfortunately, we can't be... socially investing for any cause, and this is probably the greatest cause we've seen in our lifetime. But we can't make a decision solely based on that."
David Eager, Executive Director of the Kentucky Public Pensions Authority

Eager immediately added that, given the situation, he "can’t imagine making a strong case for investing in Russia."

Lawmakers were also briefing a false rumor that made the social media rounds last week suggesting that the Teachers’ Retirement System was the second largest shareholder in a Russian bank which saw its shares plunge 95%. TRS’ general counsel Beau Barnes said, while the system did own $15 million in shares in the bank, they were sold on February 23 — prior to the invasion of Ukraine — and represent “a drop in the bucket” of the system’s funds.