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Russia’s biggest bank: Our three black swans

This has been a tough year for Russia: Sberbank CEO
This has been a tough year for Russia: Sberbank CEO
Sberbank CEO presents a new strategy in London
Sberbank CEO presents a new strategy in London
Can Russia's economy recover?
Can Russia's economy recover?
Will further sanctions be placed on Russia?
Will further sanctions be placed on Russia?

Sberbank, the biggest bank in Russia, is facing down three so-called "black swan" events – unpredictable yet major occurrences which could change its business for good - according to its chief executive.

Herman Gref, chief executive of Sberbank, told CNBC: "We are being attacked by new businesses. We are being attacked by new regulations. We have to make newer and newer investments in technologies and this has to be done simultaneously. So we got not one Black Swan but three black Swans."

"The past year was an extremely tough year for both Russia and for the Russian banking sector…the next year, in our opinion, is going to be much better even if oil prices remain the same," he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.
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Gref is not the only Russian banking boss sounding an optimistic note about the banks' ability to come through one of the worst patches in Russia's economy since the fall of Communism.

Andrey Kostin, president and chairman of VTB, Sberbank's biggest rival, told CNBC Thursday that "this is not another 2008" and he is confident about the country's economic prospects improving next year.

Rebel fighters aim their weapons as they demonstrate their skills during a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria July 12, 2015. The newly graduated rebel fighters, who went through military training, will join the the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion.
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Western commentators are rather less optimistic about the Russian economy's ability to withstand a combination of low oil prices, a plummeting ruble, and sanctions imposed by the West.

"The economy in general is still very much adjusting. We think that conditions for the banks will be difficult for the next 12-18 months in terms of both profitability and asset quality. We are expecting a rise in problem loans, towards the peak of 2009 levels," Marie Diron, senior vice president of credit policy at U.S.-based ratings agency Moody's, told CNBC.

A man walks past a board showing currency exchange rates in Moscow, July 28, 2015.
Sergei Karpukhin | Reuters

The country's involvement in conflict outside its borders, in Ukraine and Syria, has also impacted its economy, via both sanctions and increased defense spending.

Transaero, Russia's second-largest airline, this week became probably the highest-profile victim of the recession so far, when Sberbank filed a petition for bankruptcy against it.

"I cannot think of any player in the market who would have been able to save this company," Gref told CNBC. He blamed the collapse on a poor business model by the airline's previous management.