Ambassador expects 2016 to be breakthrough year in Russia-Croatia ties

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Russia wants to develop relations with Croatia and 2016 will be a breakthrough year in relations between the two countries which are now limited by European sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Russian Ambassador Anvar Azimov said in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Russia wants to develop relations with Croatia in all areas. “I look at it with optimism, otherwise I wouldn’t have accepted the ambitious task to provide an impulse to the development of relations on a mutually beneficial basis,” Azimov told a press conference on the state and prospects of Russian-Croatian relations. The press conference was held to mark Russian Diplomats’ Day.

He expressed hope for closer political contacts and cooperation on the economic front and in the areas of culture and science.

“2016 will be a breakthrough year in our relations,” the ambassador said, announcing plans to increase Russian investments in Croatia to a billion euros and boost trade between the two countries to 3 billion euros. He did not say how that would be achieved.

“Russian investments in Croatia now amount to 500 million euros. That’s too little,” Azimov said, noting that 95 per cent of the trade accounted for oil and gas. “Owing to the US and EU sanctions, trade decreased by 40 per cent to 1.2 billion dollars,” he said and added that this particularly hit agricultural producers.

Azimov said that apart from oil and gas, Russia wanted to supply Croatia with coal and aluminium as well and was particularly interested in cooperation in the shipbuilding sector. “We would come out with large orders, but cooperation in this regard has also been put on hold because of the sanctions.”

Speaking of energy, Azimov said that Moscow would rather deliver oil and gas to Croatia directly than through a third party. He said that as far as energy delivery was concerned, Croatia was secure and would not suffer as a result of a possible suspension of oil and gas deliveries.

On the subject of the South Stream gas pipeline project, the ambassador said that the project would be revived soon. “We haven’t buried it yet, only frozen it. Croatia was benevolent towards this project,” he said, adding that Russia was now focused on the North Stream 2 project. “Germany is interested in direct delivery and I think that that project will be carried out.”

Azimov expressed regret that Russia had been excluded from many projects in Croatia, citing the Adriatic hydrocarbon exploration project and the purchase of a controlling interest in the INA oil company. He also noted that Russia had not been contacted regarding the construction of an LNG terminal.

Azimov said that Russia understood Croatia’s position as a member of the European Union, but stressed that as far as cooperation was concerned, “on many issues, the ball is now in your court.”

He said that this also concerned the initiative of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to intensify cooperation along the Baltic-Black Sea-Adriatic line. “We don’t know whether to rejoice and applaud or worry about it. We don’t want these countries to shut themselves off,” he said, adding that Russia would like “to believe in the constructive spirit of this initiative” and other partners to join.

In conclusion, Azimov said that Moscow “is not rejecting any of the initiatives of the Croatian leadership.”

(Hina) vm

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