German firms keep watch on Russia

Issue Number: 
Kristine Petrosian

Germany has more business interests in Russia than any other country, with some 1,700 companies operating here. And, according to one leading industrialist, many more German firms are eager to invest their deutschemarks into Russia's potentially massive market.

They are only waiting for the right time and conditions to take the leap, said Klaus Mangold of the German East-West Trade Committee, who visited acting President Vladimir Putin last week.

"Many other [German companies] are eager to enter the Russian market and are waiting for the green light," said Mangold, who has been chosen as the next chairman of the East-West committee and who is a member of the DaimlerChrysler AG Board of Directors.

The major barriers right now, he told a gathering at the Baltschug Kempinski hotel, are Russia's confusing customs bureaucracy, imperfection of the banking system and poor relations with local authorities.

"As soon as these barriers are lifted, two or three major Russian-German projects will be given a start," he said. Although he did not provide any specifics, he did say one of them would be in the field of pipeline construction.

The current chairman of the committee, Otto Wolf von Amerongen, said the committee was delighted by Putin's readiness to meet with the delegation.

"The opportunity to meet the candidate a few weeks before the elections is very important," said Amerongen. He cited Putin as saying that Russia still refers to Germany as its main economic partner, while, Mangold said, the German business community remains interested in achieving a strategic partnership with Russia.

Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants accompanied Putin during the talks with the East-West committee, where Germany's role in the possible formation of a Russian Bank for Reconstruction and Development was discussed.

Mangold said a key role for Germany is to help secure Western loans to boost the Russian economy.

He said that German businessmen were impressed by Putin's personality and will to succeed. "He understands perfectly what is to be done with the country's problems and is driven to make it happen."

"Putin spoke openly about the strong and weak points of the country's economy and didn't hide the acute problems," added Amerongen. "I liked one of his statements: ‘Russia needs to return to its traditional place in central Europe.'"

Mangold pointed out that these types of meetings were important for Russia because they will effect the formation, or rebirth, of confidence in Russia.

"On the whole, we are not unsatisfied with the negotiations," said Amerongen.