21 May 2024,   13:59
Austrian minister says Russia will remain important for Europe

Russia will always remain important for Europe, Austria’s foreign minister said, saying that to think otherwise was delusional, writes Reuters.

Alexander Schallenberg also defended the country’s second-biggest bank, Raiffeisen Bank International, saying it was unreasonable to single out the lender for doing business in Russia while so many other Western firms did the same.

“To think that there won"t be Russia anymore and we can decouple in all areas is delusional. While Austria would loosen ties this can’t happen overnight. Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky remain a part of European culture, whether we like it or not. It will continue to be our biggest neighbour. It will stay the second largest nuclear power in the world”,- Schallenberg told Reuters.

He made his comments after the U.S. sanctions authority launched an inquiry earlier this year into Raiffeisen (RBIV.VI) over its business related to Russia, increasing scrutiny of the Austrian lender. Raiffeisen is deeply embedded in Russia and is one of the only two foreign banks on the Russian central bank’s list of 13 systemic institutions, underscoring its importance to Russia’s economy, which is grappling with sweeping Western sanctions.

A Russian scheme to grant loan payment holidays to troops fighting in Ukraine, which Raiffeisen participated in, also triggered sharp criticism by investors.

Schallenberg said it was for Austria to enforce sanctions and pointed the finger at other Western banks doing business in Russia: “Austrian companies have to stick to Austrian rules, part of which are the European Union sanctions. Let’s get real - 91% of Western companies are still in Russia and doing what is sensible: waiting, containment, ring fencing. There are enough American banks, one with the name Bank of America, present in Russia. The list is a “who’s who” of the Western banking world”.

A spokesperson for Bank of America said: "Our activities are focused on compliance with all sanctions."

Schallenberg said he favoured enforcement of existing European sanctions over introducing further measures: “It is a very blunt weapon. We’ve had massive sanctions packages. Give them time to work”.