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Czech-Russian plan catches Babiš unawares

Industry and Trade Ministry’s strategy to raise exports to Russia surprises finance minister in Brussels

Brussels/Prague, Jan. 27 (ČTK) — Finance Minister Andrej Babiš is surprised by the Industry and Trade Ministry’s prepared strategy for raising exports to Russia, as such a document has not been talked about in the government coalition, Babiš told journalists in Brussels today.

The document proposes, among other things, sending more diplomats to Moscow, strengthening cooperation with Russian regions and setting up a new office of the CzechTrade government agency in the city of Kazan, Tatarstan, Czech daily Hospodářské noviny (HN) wrote today.

The strategy also mentions better work with media and highlighting positive topics about Russia, the daily added.

“We have not talked about it in the coalition. I do not know what concretely [Industry and Trade Minister Jan] Mládek has in mind,” Babiš said, noting that if the plans concern goods that are not subject to the European sanctions and have “an impact on industry”, the debate is possible.

First, an inventory of the positions of the Czech Export Bank (ČEB) and Export Guarantee and Insurance Corporation (EGAP) has to be made. In these institutions, the Czech Republic’s exposure in Russia is at around 68 billion Kč.

“It certainly has to be made clear under what conditions the money was borrowed and what the chances are it will be returned,” he said, noting that potential further steps can be solved only after that.

The ministry also wants a meeting of the Czech Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic, Industrial and Scientific Cooperation to take place in March, the daily noted.

However, the ministry would thus break the agreement the Czech Republic has closed with the other EU27 countries. European leaders, including Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, earlier agreed at a summit in Brussels they would not hold bilateral meetings on the governmental level with Russia.

“The EU’s sanctions against Russia are not flat. It is not a complete ban on foreign trade with the Russian Federation. The sanctions concern several defined items and trading can continue in the remaining ones. The sanctions also do not concern contracts signed before they came in force,” Mládek told the Czech News Agency today.

The strategy for raising exports to Russia is one of the working documents of the commission for economic and trading dimension of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis set up last year.

“These proposals, which have been submitted for comments, will be further discussed within the tripartite’s working group. It is very early to talk about concrete measures that will emerge from these proposals,” the Industry and Trade Ministry said in a statement today.

On Thursday, foreign ministers of EU countries will discuss about whether or not anti-Russian sanctions should be toughened with respect to the worsening situation in the east of Ukraine.

In a joint statement, leaders of the EU28 today called on the foreign ministers to evaluate the situation and discuss restrictive measures aimed at securing the implementation of last year’s Minsk agreements.

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