By Andrei Skvarsky.
Sberbank’s chief executive recently again excluded the possibility of Russia’s biggest lender establishing any presence in Crimea in the foreseeable future.
Extending its business to Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine, would land Sberbank under a set of crippling Western sanctions on top of severe restrictions on access to US and European Union capital markets that were slapped on the state-controlled lender in 2014, Herman Gref told a news conference in Moscow after an annual shareholders’ meeting of Sberbank.
The 2014 sanctions were a punishment for the bank’s alleged support for Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The potential Crimea-related sanctions plus the 2014 punitive measures would be heavily damaging to Russia’s economy as a whole, according to Gref.
Gref was answering a question whether Sberbank was considering launching business in Crimea now that the lender has been forced to sell its Ukrainian subsidiary (the sale is to be completed soon). The question had the apparent implication that after being out of Ukraine Sberbank would not need to worry about Kiev’s possible reaction to its moving into the peninsula.
“Crimea has nothing to do with our Ukrainian business. It isn’t a matter of what I want or don’t want. We should realise that our presence in Crimea would automatically get us under a very wide range of sanctions,” Gref said.
“There would be such consequences for the economy of the country that at the moment our work in Crimea is out of the question.”
Sberbank is present in many European countries, India, China, Belarus and Kazakhstan in addition to its vast Russian network of branches and offices.
Gref, who was Russian economics minister from 2000 to 2007 and has been Sberbank CEO since 2007, has made practically no political comments on the Ukrainian conflict or the Crimea issue, but has repeatedly ruled out the possibility of Sberbank doing business in Crimea after its annexation by Russia, arguing that this would mean a new set of sanctions of the West.