MOSCOW (Reuters) - Microsoft could lose billions of dollars if it chooses to curb its sales in Russia due to U.S. sanctions, communications minister Nikolai Nikoforov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on Tuesday.

 

Reuters reported on Monday that two of Microsoft's official distributors in Russia imposed curbs on sales of Microsoft software to more than 200 Russian companies following new U.S. sanctions, which came into force on Nov. 28.

 

The U.S. sharpened its economic restrictions in relation to Russia in November, adding yet another layer to the sanctions regime first imposed by several Western nations on Russia for its role in the Ukraine conflict.

 

The new restrictions cut the duration of loans that can be offered to Russian financial firms subject to sanctions to 14 days from 30 days and to 60 days from 90 days for Russian energy companies on a U.S. list.

 

Previously, the restrictions had mainly affected Western banks lending to Russian firms; but with such short financing periods, swathes of companies supplying goods and services to Russian clients fear they could fall foul of the rules too.

 

It is routine in Russia for suppliers to wait weeks or even months to get paid after submitting invoices for goods and services.

Some Western firms have been advised by lawyers that the U.S. Treasury Department could, in theory, take the view this constituted financing in violation of the sanctions, according to several people involved in the discussions.

Two Microsoft distributors, Merlion and RRC, set out new guidelines for sales in directives referring to restrictions resulting from the new U.S. sanctions policy.

"Microsoft will lose a market worth several billion dollars, from the point of view of its corporate and government clients in our country," Nikoforov is cited by the TASS news agency as saying at the annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland.

Russia is able to get by without Microsoft and can replace the software completely, Nikoforov said.

"This may require further work and investments, but... it's the U.S. economy that is hit hardest by these politically-motivated sanctions," Nikoforov said, according to TASS.

Neither Merlion nor RRC responded to Reuters questions.

Microsoft said in a statement to Reuters: "Microsoft has a strong commitment to complying with legal requirements and has robust processes around the world to help ensure that our partners are in compliance as well."

(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by)