As it became known to Kommersant, the Russian authorities may limit the import of Czech products, in particular – beer. Such a measure is viewed by Moscow as one of the options for an asymmetric response to the expulsion of a large number of Russian diplomats from Prague. With regard to other countries that followed the example of the Czech Republic – Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – Moscow has already promised reciprocal expulsions. The same fate befell five Polish diplomats on Friday: they will go home because Warsaw had previously announced the expulsion of three Russians. Moreover, in this case, it was about solidarity not with the Czech Republic, but with the United States, which also accuses Moscow of “hostile activities.”
The Russian authorities are now considering the feasibility of introducing asymmetric sanctions against the Czech Republic, namely, restrictions on the import of a number of Czech-made goods. RDN was told about this by two sources in the state structures of the Russian Federation who are familiar with the discussion of the issue. According to one of them, Moscow “may have to resort to economic sanctions,” since “Prague’s unprecedented aggressive actions cannot be left unanswered, to which it is impossible to respond in a purely mirror image.”
Accusing the Russian special services of involvement in the explosions at an ammunition depot in the village of Vrbetice in 2014, the Czech authorities announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats last weekend. Russia responded by expelling 20 employees of the Czech embassy. Then Prague announced the expulsion of another 63 Russians, but the Russian authorities cannot answer this symmetrically, since only seven Czech diplomats and 25 administrative and technical staff of the embassy remained in Moscow. Then it was decided to limit the right of the Czech Embassy to hire Russian citizens to work (from the current 91 to 19 people), bringing this number in line with the number of specialists hired locally by the Russian Embassy in Prague. But this is not a symmetrical answer.
If you act in a mirror, then all the Czechs should be expelled together with the ambassador, and there it is not far before the break of diplomatic relations. Therefore, alternative answers are now being considered,” one of the interlocutors of newspaper explained.
According to the Federal Customs Service, in 2020 the trade between the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic amounted to more than $ 5.2 billion (a decrease of 43% compared to 2019 due to the consequences of the pandemic). Russian imports from the Czech Republic accounted for $ 2.7 billion (this is $ 200 million more than Russian exports). Sources of Kommersant say that restrictions may affect any of the industries, but they emphasize that when drawing up a new black list, the Russian authorities will proceed from the principle “do not harm yourself”.
One of Kommersant’s interlocutors is sure that Czech beer will be banned. Its imports to the Russian Federation in 2020 amounted to more than $ 38 million, and last year this figure increased by almost 10% compared to 2019, although many other indicators have significantly decreased. Director of the Center for Research on Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets (CIFRRA) Vadim Drobiz considers the possible ban on the import of beer from the Czech Republic a “symbolic prick”. According to him, now the turnover of beer and beer drinks in Russia is 8 billion liters, of which only 5% is imported into the country. In the total volume of imports, the share of the Czech Republic is about 10% in kind, or 40 million liters per year, the expert said. According to him, this product is becoming more expensive in retail due to fluctuations in the exchange rate, therefore the volume of consumption of Czech beer in the Russian Federation is decreasing: “Beverages produced in the Czech Republic are regularly or occasionally consumed by less than 2 million people”.
About ten brands of Czech beer are currently imported into the Russian Federation, said Oraz Durdyev, director for legal issues and corporate relations at AB InBev Efes.
According to him, the main share in the category is occupied by licensed Czech varieties: “Such beer is produced by international companies in Russia under license and using Czech raw materials.”
AB InBev Efes thus produces Velkopopovicky Kozel. They, like other enterprises operating in the Russian Federation under license, are likely not to be affected by possible restrictions.
According to the Federal Customs Service, according to the items of the commodity nomenclature of foreign economic activity (TN VED) 84–90, goods worth $ 2.55 billion were imported from the Czech Republic, almost half of this amount – $ 1.2 billion – fell on TN VED 84 “Nuclear reactors, boilers, equipment and mechanical devices, their parts ”. Reactors from the Czech Republic are not imported; this TN VED includes a large number of factory and household appliances. Rosatom has an ARAKO enterprise in the Czech Republic, which produces industrial valves for the nuclear industry. In addition, it manufactures and supplies industrial valves to 25 countries around the world, according to the ARAKO website.
Russian machine builders cooperate with Czech companies – both within the framework of production under license (in particular, the Ural Civil Aviation Plant produces the L-410 aircraft under the license of the Czech Let), and through a joint venture and other forms of cooperation. The Sinara – Transport Machines (STM) holding has a joint venture with Skoda Transportation established in 2019 for the production of urban transport. “It is planned that at the first stage we will talk about the production of trams, for which the Sinara-Skoda joint venture was created, the production is planned to be located at the sites of the private label holding,” the company says. “We are currently working on the suppliers of components, the work will be formalized in the form of a large-scale investment program, the detailed parameters of which the private label will be ready to announce after the completion of all the necessary corporate procedures”. The UZGA declined to comment.
In the Czech Republic of Mlada Boleslav, there is a large warehouse of Skoda components, which, among other things, is engaged in the supply of original spare parts of VW Group brands to Russia. Components from the plant are also delivered to the Volkswagen site in Kaluga and to GAZ in Nizhny Novgorod, where a number of Skoda models are produced by contract assembly. VW transported engines from Kaluga to the Czech Republic.
The informed interlocutor of news agency knows at least about the supply of exhaust systems from there, but clarifies that due to their size, they are imported only for less massive engines.
Another interlocutor suggests that we are talking about interior details.
Note that on April 23, the import of Skoda was banned by Belarus. The reason for the sanctions was that the company had previously refused to sponsor the World Ice Hockey Championship, which was eventually moved from the republic.
“Jointly adopted and agreed decisions”
If the import of a number of Czech goods into the Russian Federation is really banned, this will become a new turn in the conflict, which has been actively developing all week, and has caught the neighboring countries as well. On Thursday, as a sign of solidarity with the Czech Republic, Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats; on Friday, Lithuania joined them, expelling two, as well as Latvia and Estonia, sending one Russian diplomat home.
By Friday evening, Moscow had not officially announced retaliatory measures against Slovakia and the Baltic countries, but the Russian Foreign Ministry made it clear that a number of diplomats would also be declared persona non grata. But on Friday morning, an announcement was made about the expulsion from Russia of five employees of the Polish diplomatic mission. In this case, it was about a conflict on a different track, not related to the case of the Czech explosion. But in the opinion of the Russian Foreign Ministry, there is a lot in common between these cases. In an interview with RT TV channel, the representative of the foreign ministry Maria Zakharova said: the Czech authorities did not at first understand what they were being drawn into by “their curators”, who then did not give Prague the opportunity to “take a step back.” The Foreign Ministry also speaks of “curators” when describing the actions of Poland, which has shown solidarity with the US decisions of 15 April. On that day, Washington announced a series of measures against Moscow, including the expulsion of ten diplomats. The reasons were called “Russia’s interference in the 2020 presidential elections” and “disinformation activities.” “An absurd pretext for expressing solidarity with the United States, allegations of Russia’s involvement in certain cyber attacks on the territory of its country,” was the commentary on Warsaw’s move at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Moscow assures that all the blame for the current situation lies with the initiators of the sanctions, and the Russian Federation only responds, since it cannot but respond. The EU countries, which have been affected by the current diplomatic scandal, blame Russia for its escalation.
“The decision of the Russian side is another example of an aggressive policy and a deliberate gesture designed to aggravate relations with neighbors and the entire international community,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said on Friday. “Moscow has destroyed our mutual relations, which are now in a frozen state,” – Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babis was indignant.
In these conditions, Prague has been calling for solidarity from other EU and NATO partners for several days already. According to Mr. Babis, the Czech Republic will make the same request to other EU member states at a meeting of the European Council on May 7.
“I am sure that (from the leaders of the EU countries – editor) there will be a clear reaction,” the prime minister said.
According to Anastasia Likhacheva, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS) at the Higher School of Economics, “the Czech Republic has practically no mechanisms of serious sanctions pressure on Russia and Prague is unlikely to be able to break through a separate sanctions package in the EU against Moscow”. In a conversation with news agency, Ms. Likhacheva admits that “a line is traced on the part of the states of Eastern Europe towards a greater confrontation with Moscow.” But, she adds, “there is no reason to talk about a real split over the anti-Russian line between the countries of Western and Eastern Europe: sanctions against Moscow have been an important part of the European foreign policy consensus, a strategic and political choice of the EU countries for several years”.
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