The German state of Nordrhein Westfalen hopes to improve its economic links with Russia's Volga and Don areas with the opening of representative offices in four major Russian cities.
A venture between the Nordrhein Westfalen Economy Ministry and German businesses from that area will set up the offices, the first of which will open in Nizhny Novgorod in August, seeking to consolidate existing ties with local business and establish cooperation with new partners. Additional offices will then be set up in Samara, Rostov-on-Don and Kostroma.
The industrial Nordrhein Westfalen region, with a population of 17 million, already has close financial links to the Nizhny region, investing more there than in any other part of Russia.
Total exports of the region last year amounted to $1 milion. That figure was considerably lower than usual due to the aftermath of Russia's financial crisis, but is expected to grow again this year.
"We have had seven years of close relations with these four regions, the main one of which is Nizhny Novgorod. Now, we will be continuing these activities on another level," said Thomas Pitsch, prospective head of the mission, speaking from Dusseldorf.
He said that the representation's chief task will be to select new trading partners, advise on investment opportunities and maintain links with local political decision makers. "The aim is to increase cooperation between Nordrhein Westfalen and the chosen regions. We hope to organize contact both with companies and on a political level," he said.
The representative office will focus on German involvement in some spheres of industry. "There are 29 companies with a special interest in the Nizhny region. They can be divided into three main groups of activity energy, which comprises oil, gas and electricity; agriculture and food processing, and utilities, particularly waste water management," Pitsch said.
"The project will be financed jointly by the state of Nordrhein Westfalen and the 29 companies involved."
Once the Nizhny Novgorod office is set up, Pitsch said attention will turn to building links with the other three target cities.
"We will be trying to establish a network of partner offices in these regions. These should mainly be local private consulting companies. We hope this will increase activity with Nordrhein Westfalen, but that depends on the Russian partners."
Germany is Russia's largest foreign trade partner, and further German investment in Russia was high on the agenda at talks between President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during Putin's recent visit to Berlin.