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Putin allows Avtovaz to buy UniCredit-Renault Russian finance arm

By Alexander Marrow

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday gave approval for Russian carmaker Avtovaz to buy RN Bank, a joint venture between Italian lender UniCredit and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, a rare sale of a foreign-owned strategic asset.

Tuesday's order cited an Aug. 5 decree, signed by Putin, which banned investors from so-called unfriendly countries from selling shares in key energy projects and banks until the end of the year. That decree gave Putin the power to issue special waivers in certain cases for deals to go ahead.

In accordance with the Aug. 5 decree, Tuesday's order "authorised deals by Avtovaz to acquire 100% of shares in RN Bank, owned by Barn B.V.," the joint venture.

UniCredit holds a 40% stake in Barn B.V. The alliance held 60% when the JV was formed in 2013.

The Italian bank has held talks with potential buyers of its Russian business, but those efforts have since been hampered by restrictions on asset sales.

When Citigroup Inc. agreed to sell a portfolio of personal instalment loans to commercial bank Uralsib, the Bank of Russia said the decree on asset sales only applies to transactions with shares.

Japan's Nissan last month took a $687 million loss in handing over its business in Russia to a state-owned entity for one euro ($1), mirroring an earlier move by Renault which sold its majority stake in Avtovaz for one rouble.

Mitsubishi in October said nothing had yet been decided on whether it would withdraw from Russia in response to a Nikkei report that it was considering leaving. It halted production in April.

On its website, RN Bank says it is Russia's 56th-largest bank in terms of assets.

"The priority areas for the bank's activity are: consumer loans for buying the alliance's brands' cars, financing the alliance's brands' dealers, and also providing related financial services to customers," RN Bank says.

UniCredit and Avtovaz declined to comment. RN Bank, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi did not immediately respond.

($1 = 0.9636 euros)

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Elena Fabrichnaya and Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Potter)