Western Sanctions? Raiffeisen Bank’s Russian Expansion Raises Eyebrows Amid Pledge to Exit!

US against Austrian RBI and Oleg Derispaska
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In a questionable development exposed by the Financial Times, Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI), Austria’s prominent lender, has been actively posting job advertisements for positions in Russia, signaling plans for expansion despite its previous commitments to exit the Russian market following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This move has stirred significant scrutiny and led to an internal probe ordered by CEO Johann Strobl.

The Russian Expansion

It definitely looks like the Austrian RBI does not think too much of the Western sanctions against Russia. As we all know, money doesn’t stink, and Austria is different anyway.

The situation is particularly delicate for RBI, which remains the Western bank with the largest operations in Russia. The advertisements, which sought to expand the client base and stabilize income growth, starkly contrasted with the bank’s official stance on reducing its Russian business. This discrepancy has led to a ‘highly embarrassing’ situation for RBI, with swift actions taken to revise the misleading job postings.

Read our reports on RBI here.

Adding to the controversy, RBI has been under pressure from international bodies, including the US Treasury Department and the European Central Bank, to diminish its Russian operations. The bank’s strategic blunder in its job postings comes amid heightened criticism for its dealings with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in the STRABAG deal, highlighting RBI‘s complex entanglements in Russia.

Follow our reports on Oleg Deripaska here.

RBI increased Russian headcount will other Western financial institutions reduce their staff in Russia

RBI‘s increase in local headcount by 6.6% to 9,942 employees, as opposed to other Western banks like UniCredit, which reduced their presence, further complicates the narrative. RBI explained that the rise in numbers was primarily to bolster its IT department in preparation for a potential sale, suggesting a strategic, albeit awkward, positioning to maintain a functional business capable of attracting buyers without overtly supporting the Russian wartime economy.

The bank’s precarious position reflects the broader dilemma faced by Western businesses operating in Russia: balancing operational requirements and ethical considerations in a highly volatile geopolitical landscape. RBI’s ongoing saga illustrates the complexities and challenges of navigating business commitments and regulatory pressures in a sanctions-hit Russia, all while attempting to uphold international standards and manage reputational risks.

The Austrian-Russian Wirecard Connection

This scenario is emblematic of Austria’s broader role as a hotspot for Russian oligarchs and entrepreneurs. Recent scandals, such as the espionage activities linked to former Austrian Wirecard manager Jan Marsalek and former Austrian secret service agent Egisto Ott, underscore Austria’s intricate connections with Russian interests, which often traverse the grey zones of legality and ethical business practices.

Marsalek was apparently working as a spy for the Russians. He is said to be in Russia today and is officially on the payroll of the Russian secret service.

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