President Miloš Zeman begins an official visit to Russia on Monday, with the largest Czech business delegation in 25 years, representing some 132 firms.
According to some, the head of state’s visit will open the door to important new opportunities, despite the fact that sanctions remain in place over Russia’s intervention in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
Will the trip truly provide new opportunities for Czech firms? That was a question Czech Radio put to South Bohemian politician and businessman Zdeněk Zbytek, who has eagerly backed the initiative. He has extensive experience of doing business in Russia and says the president’s involvement will only help:
“I am one of the representatives to take part in the Russia Business Forum. [The fact that we are joining the president is a positive]… I had to build my own position in Russia over 15 – 20 years, and today it is a lot tougher. The situation today is very different in terms of business, so without proper political ties, our business people would have no chance.”
Some see the importance of the president on the journey as overstated, pointing to investments which failed to materialise following a similar initiative in China. At the same time, it is clear that diplomacy can open doors and should play an important role.
The head of independent new media site hlidacipes.cz Robert Břešťan was asked if existing sanctions would have a detrimental effect.
“Of course Czech businesses will be hoping for new deals and there is nothing wrong with that. Existing sanctions on Russia should not have an impact because those are clearly defined and will not affect sectors represented here.
Companies interested in broadening existing business opportunities or setting the stage for new ones during the visit include many of the brand names one would expect such as car manufacturer Škoda Auto or truck builders Tatra Kopřivnice. The delegation will travel to Russia in three separate planes. During his visit, the Czech president will meet not only with Russian President Vladimir Putin but also Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.