Stefan Duerr: I advised Putin to impose sanctions ("Die Zeit", Germany)
Stefan Dürr (Stefan Dürr) heads the leading Russian agricultural holding, the priority of which is dairy production. In an interview with Die Zeit, a German businessman spoke about a ban on the import of foreign agricultural products and a meeting with the Russian president.
DIE ZEIT: Mr. Durr, President Vladimir Putin has imposed a ban on the import of Western agricultural products. Have you been surprised by this decision?
Stefan Dürr: No, everyone in Russia expected the government to take retaliatory measures against the EU and the USA. I was not surprised. The day before the ban was introduced, I met with the president, and we talked, among other things, about the crisis.
- Have you talked with Putin?
- Yes. At the beginning of the year, for success in the development of Russian agriculture, I was granted Russian citizenship. And now Vladimir Putin wanted to talk more closely. We talked for half an hour, and the governor of the Voronezh region Alexey Gordeyev was also present at the meeting. The conversation took place in his office.
- How did the conversation go?
- Putin began to speak German. Then we switched to Russian, because the governor does not speak German very well. I got the impression that Vladimir Putin was absolutely not satisfied with the escalation of the crisis, and this question greatly touches him. Putin is not such a tough person as he is constantly portrayed in the West. But on the other hand, he will be the last to make concessions in today's conflict.
- Putin asked about your attitude to Western sanctions?
- Yes. And I said that in his place I would respond.
- For more than 20 years, you have been supporting the German-Russian dialogue in the field of agriculture. You were awarded the Order, the state award of the Federal Republic of Germany, and now you advise Putin to impose sanctions?
- Yes, I advised Putin to impose sanctions. It is precisely because I am so active in advocating the development of German-Russian relations that it hurts me that many decisions are being made now in the heat of the moment. I believe that the response will show the West how much countries depend on each other in many sectors.
- Who is responsible for the conflict?
- I believe that the main fault lies in the West, which constantly adds fuel to the fire. He leaves Putin no choice. Here, in the Russian province, he is most likely criticized for being too soft. He can't just take it and put up with sanctions. Then he will lose in domestic politics.
- Why did he decide to impose sanctions in the agricultural sector?
- Specifically, I did not advise him, but there is a sense in it. Because by doing so Putin kills two birds with one stone. Responding to Western sanctions, he creates the prerequisite for the parties to sit down at the negotiating table at some point. At the same time, it gives Russian agriculture a chance for development in this transitional period. For example, a ban on the import of Western cars would not have contributed to significant economic growth, since the development of a competitive automotive industry is not expected in the near future. In the case of agriculture, the situation looks different.
- You feel the impact of Western sanctions on your EkoNiva holding, which is not only the largest dairy producer in Russia, you also sell agricultural equipment and seeds?
“Last week I visited the service site of a European company with which we cooperate in selling agricultural equipment. There was the following information - “Due to the introduction of EU sanctions, we cannot provide technical support.” For us, this is a real accident. In modern agricultural technology, everything is like in cars - it is no longer possible to be like them with one screwdriver and a hammer, you need a laptop, which reveals some problems and makes a "diagnosis". If the necessary computer programs are blocked and you do not receive spare parts, it turns out that you have cars worth several millions, but you can’t maintain or repair them anymore. This is a catastrophe.
- But after all, EU sanctions do not apply to agricultural machinery. Why are your products affected by the sanctions?
- We buy equipment from this company, which is used in agriculture. But the same technique can be used for military purposes, it is enough to paint it in a protective color. Apparently, the equipment was classified as a dual-purpose equipment, and the products were included in the sanctions list. Then the company filed a complaint with the government, and a few days later the customer service started working again.
- What is your reaction to sanctions?
- I already asked myself this question. What happens if there is a further escalation of the conflict, if I cannot get parts for my cars? Wouldn't it be better to make a choice now in favor of a reliable Russian manufacturer? Or Chinese? A large engineering company in our region has already taken this step. Now they buy products in China, not in Europe. This is a new development of the situation, the impetus of which was given by the crisis, and which is now receiving unprecedented acceleration due to sanctions. I don’t know if the West realizes what opportunities are opening up for Chinese enterprises in Russia thanks to fines.
- Do you also plan to switch to Russian or Chinese equipment?
- As a company engaged in the sale of agricultural machinery, we have for a long time been working with manufacturers such as the American concern John Deere. We are very familiar with their equipment, the cost of choosing another partner is very high. Such a move is unlikely. At the same time, for example, in the agricultural sector, in the dairy industry, I consider it possible to opt for the Russian and Chinese equipment. I think that everything will come to this.
- Do you, as a Russian manufacturer of dairy products and beef, benefit from a ban on the import of Western goods?
- Of course, and this applies to all agricultural producers in Russia. Take, for example, the German company Hochland, which produces cheese in Russia. It was under tremendous pressure from McDonald's largest customer, including due to the fact that competitors Schreiber Foods produces cheaper cheddar in Poland. And now Schreiber is out of the game, which has a positive effect on the positions of Hochland.
- Protectionism leads to higher prices. Whether the population will suffer from it first of all?
- I do not think that prices will rise. Rather, I believe that the European suppliers of dairy products will replace South American. In addition, the share of Russian dairy products will increase. The goal has long been set, to bring self-sufficiency in dairy products to the level of 90%. Previously, it was against the liberals of the economy. But these discussions are a thing of the past. Now it is not necessary to explain to anyone that independent provision of food is necessary.
- The transition, apparently, will take a lot of time. How far can Russia go in its intention to independently supply itself with dairy products?
- I believe that it will take another ten years for us to reach the level of 90% in the dairy business.
- You are the largest producer of dairy products in Russia. How did you achieve this?
- My grandfather had a small farmland in Odenwald, which I planned to do. But after the political change, I was one of the first to go to Russia as an intern. At that time, Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev established cooperation in the agrarian sector, which included student exchanges. For me it was an adventure. Already on the spot, I saw opportunities for the development of agriculture in Russia. In Germany, our family had 14 hectares, and the area of collective farms in Russia was often more than 5000 hectares. Then it was still completely unclear what will happen next. Everything was in decline when I randomly got into agrarian policy.
- How can a trainee accidentally end up in agrarian policy?
- I met with the chairman of the Russian Agrarian Union. He invited me to several meetings. And then I asked if I would like to organize a trip to Germany. Together with the Russian Deputy Minister of Agriculture, I, an 28-year-old student, a future geo-ecologist, rode the bus in Thuringia, we watched how agricultural partnerships were reformed there. Later, I advised the Russian parliament on agrarian reform, because the country had problems similar to those in East Germany. I did not want to allow the land, as it happened with oil, to be in the hands of selected oligarchs.
- Today you are one of the largest owners of land in Russia. Your company operates on an area of 200 thousand hectares, which is about three-quarters of the area of Luxembourg. Have you benefited from the system that defined your development after a political break?
- No, so to speak it is impossible. At that time I was against private farms in agricultural areas. At first, I earned money by selling crops and agricultural equipment. Only with 2002, the opportunity to redeem land distributed among the villagers appeared. I then bought it. Otherwise, others would have done it.
- How do you personally experience the conflict between Russia and the West?
“Sometimes I feel like a child, whose parents have quarreled and are talking about divorce.” I have German and Russian citizenship. The crisis that has arisen me very much.
- It seems that you have already made a choice in favor of one of the parties - the Russian. Does business play a role here?
- At a rational level, this is true. In this regard, I rather support the Russian side, but not because of business, but because I think that Putin is more likely right. On an emotional level, I don't want to make decisions. I want the solution of the Ukrainian crisis to be found, that Russia becomes an absolutely normal country in the community of European countries and would not be at some point with China on the other side of the curtain.
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