By Inna Rogatchi © Rogatchi Productions & Communications (Helsinki)
Surprisingly or not, a trip by EU ambassadors to the Russian city of Nizhni Novgorod turned out to be the first case of such a working visit to the region which is traditionally passed as the «third capital of Russia». The body of delegates to Nizhni Novgorod was headed by Mr Andre Mernier, the Belgian ambassador to Russia, as a representative of the country now holding the rotating EU presidency and Mr Richard Wright, a well known figure on the stage of global diplomacy and the head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Russia
It was well important for the EU representatives themselves to take a close look at the performance of the investment system in the rather large region of Russia well north of Moscow and to determine areas needy and worthy of new cash injections. After having visited Dzerzinsk - a former "closed" area and the capital of the Soviet Union's chemical industry - ambassador Wright was deeply impressed. Dzerzinsk was for years a place where chemical weapons were made, and today the European Union has worked out a program for eliminating the consequences of the particular production. «No money should be economized with concern to this program. We must bring the utilization process to the very end, and it has definitely got to receive funding», said Andre Mernier during a conversation with The Baltic Course.
Members of the delegation were mostly (in its positive sense) surprised by the human potential of Russia's «third capital»; yet they were obviously dejected in regard to the «fantastically low average wages» - as stated by the Austrian ambassador Mr. Franz Cede who frankly refused to comprehend how one can survive on 70 dollars a month coupled with a practically non-existent infrastructure in the whole region, including the city of Nizhni Novgorod itself.
The great necessity to develop sufficient infrastructure became the main subject to be discussed between the EU delegates and Gennady Khodyrev, the new governor of Nizhni Novgorod. Not only the governor himself, but also his new team of ministers and advisers, including the famous financier Dmitri Yevseyev and the minister of industry Yuri Sentyurin, were all thoroughly prepared for the international dialogue concerning investment flow.
As one of the leading teams representing the large and economically important region of Russia, they clearly see the problems and also honestly speak about them, not trying to pull the wool over their partners' eyes - and there are not all too many teams like this in Russia. They are completely aware of the necessary investment guarantees and the provision of different preferences that might attract potential investors - first of all these could be flexible tax agreements.
In detailed interview to The Baltic Course, the governor of the city kindly invited investments in the region, talking with pleasure about possible cooperation with Baltic partners in projects which will now be given the green light. First of all, the issue concerns the timber industry. «Nizhni Novgorod is extremely rich in timber resources representing various tree species. All international business in this sector earlier resulted in selling timber for further export, which later died off due to unreasonably high transportation costs. What do we offer today? Please, come and see, do not hesitate to establish any level of wood processing you find realistic for implementation here. If it is not about the manufacture of final products, these could also be semi-manufactured goods necessary for the production of furniture which the Baltic masters are so proud of. Train our labour in timber processing secrets to produce high-quality plywood that meets global demand. Besides this, we also have enormous reserves of peat that might be turned into briquettes, thus making it a very profitable business. We are just as interested in the development of resource-economizing technologies (which are already well developed in the Northern Europe), and the network of mobile boiler-houses running on firewood and other forms on non-coal fuel. What concerns the expansion of our transport system and plans for construction of large customs and container terminals (as we have been included into the European transport system), we welcome maximum development in container transportation - a sphere where the Baltic states are also considered to be experts. Advancement at the maximum pace in the nearest future is also expected with regard to our local airline».
According to the city's governor and Dmitri Yevseyev, his adviser on industry expansion matters, the urgent need of infrastructure development in Nizhni Novgorod is the primary goal to be carried out: «The creation of fast-food chains and building service stations, small shops, cafes, entertainment, recreation and business centers, rehabilitation complexes, clubs and restaurants is looked forward to and will certainly receive any practical assistance. Infrastructure development in the region with a population of three million and an increasing number of foreign visitors is currently the top priority on our agenda». The beginning for an influx of foreign investors into the «third capital» of Russia is no longer far off - investments for construction of the first international class business center planned for the nearest future by a rather large German company.