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Head of Raiffeisen Bank International about Belarus-Austria cooperation

A week ago, the President raised a very important and controversial economic topic in the Oval Hall. The topic was related to the disagreement between Russia and Belarus on gas prices. Everybody has his own truth, but Moscow conceded in the argument. Thus, the gas price is reduced for Belarus, which is fair enough from the point of view of the Eurasian integration. Nevertheless, the location of Belarus makes us look at different sides. For instance, today, Belarus has the same turnover with the EU as it has with Russia. During the visit to Poland, Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei mentioned that Belarus, without turning its back on Russia, would like to reduce its dependence on one country.

Vladimir Makei, Foreign Minister:
We're not going to break away from Russia. We understand that in economic terms, Belarus strongly enough depends on it. But we want to get away from this one-sided dependence, to be less dependent on one state, which is especially defective in times of economic and financial crises. And we have witnessed this. But this does not mean that we are going to break all our relations with our main ally and partner. Far from it. On the contrary, we intend to strengthen these relations. At the same time, we believe that it is our national interest to develop normal good-neighborly relations with our Western partners, with the European Union, with the European Union as a whole, and with the other geopolitical players: the United States of America and with other centers of power, with China and so on.

Such a normal pragmatic decision was announced by the Belarusian Foreign Minister. Many western countries are willing to cooperate with Belarus, understanding its advantages and contribution. The head of Raiffeisen Bank International, one of the most respectable bank institutions in Europe, was talking about that issue. 

Karl Sevelda gave an interview to our correspondent Yana Shipko in the Austrian capital Vienna.

Mr. Sevelda, thank you very much for taking time for an interview. Why do you give interviews so rarely?

Karl Sevelda, chairman of Raiffeisen Bank International:
I would not say so. But as far as interviews are concerned, they are usually given when there is something to say or when something is asked. Not every interview passes in a nice way. It happens that journalists ask very tricky questions.

I get it. Then we are lucky! We would like to hear your opinion on how cooperation between Austria and Belarus is developing. Probably, Raiffeisen was among the first foreign investors in Belarus.Why was the Belarusian market attractive?

Karl Sevelda:
Of course, it is important for us that we are the only Western bank in Belarus. But not only this fact is attractive. Belarus offers foreign investors very favorable terms. Today, your country has a number of Austrian companies that have invested in the Belarusian business. We are serving them. This is also our interest. In addition, we see great potential for development in Belarus. And we intend to take advantage of this potential.

What potential do you see? Maybe in the development of cooperation and attracting more investors to Belarus?

Karl Sevelda:
I believe that Belarus is an interesting country for foreign investors. Firstly, we are attracted qualified and relatively cheap labor force. Secondly, we have support of the state in many areas. Of course, as in many other countries, there's a lot of bureaucracy, but at the same time it's evident that the government is seeking to attract foreign investors.

Previously, you worked in the Ministry of Trade. In your opinion, where is the potential in trade with Belarus?

Karl Sevelda:
I think there are lots of resources in Belarus. Therefore, Austrian business is widely represented. Only imagine the forest riches of Belarus and it becomes clear why so many Austrian investors are interested in woodworking here. For example, the production of wooden boards. Also, successful investors from Austria from other areas also come to Belarus. And, of course, trade between Austria and Belarus is very promising. I now do not have specific figures at hand, but I'm sure that trade is promising. I believe that in a situation when there is economic dependence on one country, Belarus would like to expand trade relations and partnerships.

Recently, we have seen the development of a complex situation between Ukraine and Russia. Raiffeisen has remained in Ukraine, although it has reduced its presence. Are you planning further development in Belarus?

Karl Sevelda:
I believe that Belarus has a very stable position. Both in terms of politics and in terms of economy. This makes all potential difficulties easy to predict. We do not intend to leave the country.

You have been to Belarus several times. What are your impressions of the country?

Karl Sevelda:
Belarus is a very organized country and Minsk is the cleanest city in Europe. With regard to the development of the economic sector, that is a lot of work to do. I think you need to make a number of bold steps to create the necessary impetus for the economy. And I remember your weather. I was last year in Minsk in winter, and it was minus 20 degrees. A very strong wind.

You've been to Belarus three times?

Karl Sevelda:
No, no. More.

For example, I will bring a Mozart from Vienna ...

Karl Sevelda:
Yes, these candies, yes!

What will you bring from Belarus?

Karl Sevelda:
You know, I like your vodka. I love buying it in Belarus. It is impossible to drink a lot of it but just a bit of vodka is even healthy.

You are a very busy man. What helps you relax and unwind?

Karl Sevelda:
I wake up very early, go in for sports. My working day at the bank begins at 7:30 am. I have a very busy schedule: meeting after meeting. Often in the evening, I hold a variety of discussions, conversations. I often travel on business trips. Every week I have at least two flights. I take a rest at the weekend. But, unfortunately, very little. I love to go on walks. Usually I listen to music, I like opera, visit theaters. I have a grandson, with whom I play, but not as long as I would like. So he sometimes calls me "Fast Grandpa."

Do you play with your dog?

Karl Sevelda:
No, no, no, dogs are ​just on my tie. My wife, too, often travels. She is originally from Switzerland and she travels to her parents. Therefore, we cannot afford to have a pet.

Thank you again for taking the time to talk.

Karl Sevelda:
Thank you, with pleasure!


Head of Raiffeisen Bank International about cooperation between Belarus and Austria