Wednesday

25th Jan 2017

German, Dutch firms ready to take hit from Russia sanctions

  • Royal Dutch Shell has €5bn worth of assets in Russia (Photo: Municipal Archives of Trondheim)

German and Dutch companies, so far among the most reluctant to back EU's planned Russia sanctions, are ready to take a hit from possible retaliatory measures.

The "Eastern association of German economy" representing firms who are active in Russia is ready to support the sanctions, its chief Eckhard Cordes told Handelsblatt.

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"If Putin continues to go this way, then this is not the way of German economy," Cordes said.

And if the German government, together with other EU countries, decide that economic sanctions have to be put in place because Russia fails to cooperate and use its influence on the Ukrainian separatists to stop the fighting, "then we will back it 100 percent," he said.

German firms doing business in Russia have so far been lobbying the German government against economic sanctions, for fear of retaliation from Moscow.

The same goes for Dutch firms, such as Shell and Heineken.

But the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passanger plane last week over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists and with a missile that is believed to have been fired from a Russian rocket-launcher has changed the mood even among the most fervent Russia-defenders.

Cordes said the way the catastrophe was handled was an "act of inhumanity".

"We see disturbing behaviours, when separatists find bodies. From the Russian side, we hear adventurous theories, for instance that there were dead people on the plane."

In the Netherlands, the plane crash has become a national trauma, as almost 200 out of the 298 passengers on the plane were Dutch citizens.

Dutch oil giant Shell, who has some €5 billion in oil and gas producing assets in Russia, said on Thursday it wants to "ensure that we comply with all applicable international sanctions and related measures.”

Shell lost four employees in the downing of the plane.

Electronics manufacturer Philips, who also lost two employees in the crash, called the incident "unacceptable" and is also ready to face the brunt of economic sanctions.

Ad van Hamburg, the head of Fenedex, an association representing some 4,000 Dutch companies, told De Telegraaf that "exporters understand the Netherlands can’t take this horrendous attack lying down".

"After this, feelings have to take the upper hand, not economic interests. These entrepreneurs are creative and will find other sources of income. What has happened is simply too momentous. You don’t need to remain friendly at all costs," he said.

EU ambassadors on Friday were set to continue preparations for wide-ranging economic sanctions, targeting Russian banks' and firms' access to EU capital markets, as well as export bans on technological equipment, arms and high-tech goods that can have both military and civilian use.

The sanctions could be imposed next week if Russia does not change course.

On Thursday, there appeared to be no change in Moscow's actions. The US said it has evidence that Russia fired artillery across the border targeting Ukrainian military positions.

Russia also intends "to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the State Department said.

US President Barack Obama phoned Dutch PM Mark Rutte on Thursday to convey his condolences and both agreed that "Russia still has not met the conditions set forth earlier by the leaders of the United States and European Union".

"Instead of deescalating the situation, they agreed that all evidence indicates Russia is still arming and supplying separatists who continue to engage in deadly acts of aggression against Ukrainian armed forces," a readout from the White House says.

Trump pledges US-first foreign policy

Economic protectionism and war on Islamist terrorism will form the heart of US foreign policy, Trump has said. He did not rubbish Nato, but indicated interest in a new Russia alliance.

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