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news 21 Oct 16

Crimea Officials Tout for Business in Serbia

A delegation from the region controversially annexed by Russia is visiting Serbia and urging businesses to invest despite EU sanctions.

Natalia Zaba
The debate in the Russian House in Belgrade. Photo: BIRN/Natalia Zaba

The speaker of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, Deputy Prime Minister Georghy Muradov, Economy Minister Valentin Demidov and representatives from the Crimean culture, education and tourism sector took part in a debate on Friday in the Russian House in Belgrade as part of a visit aimed at boosting economic ties with Serbia.

Muradov said some Serbian businesses were already operating in Crimea but did not reveal any names.

“Serbian businessmen started to come two years ago and are participating in infrastructure development projects in Crimea, which are being led by the Russian Federation,” Muradov told BIRN at an event that saw few Serbians in attendance.

Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to leave Ukraine in 2014 and join Russia, which has formally annexed it – a decision condemned by the US and the European Union.

Serbia is one of the few European states that has not imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and role in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

But Brussels has warned Belgrade that its policy of maintaining close ties with Russia while seeking EU membership is untenable in the long term.

Deputy Prime Minister Muradov said business conditions in Crimea were favourable as it had been proclaimed as a free economic zone within the Russian Federation.  

Answering questions about possible EU sanctions, he said that this problem was not insuperable.

“That’s why we’re not afraid of them. Companies registered in Russia can easily organize themselves in Crimea [by opening daughter companies] and there will be no consequences for them,” he told BIRN.

Asked if a lot of foreign companies had registered in Crimea, he insisted that many had done so but he could not name them for safety reasons.

“We want to create safe business environment for our partners, that’s why we will not reveal that [which companies were investing in Crimea],” he said.

“But I can say that many Russian companies working in Crimea are international in origin - and that there are dozens of them,” he added.

“Currently we have so many delegations from foreign countries, which we’ve never had before,” he continued.

The visitors said they saw most potential in agricultural cooperation, construction and tourism.

According to the Minister of economy, Valentin Demidov, Serbia is the only Balkan country where such a presentation taken place and the minister announced that they plan similar meetings once a year in Serbia.

The Deputy Prime Minister Muradov told BIRN,  that Crimea recently hosted meeting with ex ministers of many European countries, parliamentarians from Italy or Greece, even bussines working groups from EU countries that have put sanctions on Russia.

“But they’re not afraid [to come] because they know how to deal with this situation,” he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that he is aware that authorities in Ukraine and the US disapproved of all such ties but he was convinced that matters would change.

“The US is keeping us under taught control but I hope that understanding for this situation will come from the EU; the current [EU] governments will not be there forever, they’re changing,” he said.

On Saturday, the Crimean delegates will visit a winery in Oplenac, near Belgrade. On Friday they planned to host an exhibition about a Crimean architect as well as a music concert in the Russian House in Belgrade.

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