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Russia: Sberbank branches out in central Europe

Russian lender takes advantages of banking woes; Foreign banks under pressure in Russia

Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, has embarked on its long-awaited expansion outside the former Soviet Union with the acquisition of Austria’s Volksbank International (VBI). The majority state-owned bank had previously restricted its overseas operations to countries in Russia’s so-called near abroad – Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

With the purchase of 100% of VBI, however, Sberbank will add a further nine countries to its sphere of operations and the Russian lender has now laid the ground for establishing a strong international presence that it ultimately hopes will make it a force to be reckoned with in global financial services. Pending regulatory approval, the reported $1 billion or so VBI purchase should be wrapped up by the end of the year. In late July, VBI’s principal shareholder, Österreichische Volksbank, which has a 51% stake in the lender, was one of the only eight of 90 banks that failed the European Banking Authority’s stress test on whether they would be able to survive another financial crisis. And there are increasing doubts about whether Austria’s fourth-biggest lender can continue to repay a $1.4 billion bailout package provided by the authorities in Vienna. Other VBI shareholders include France’s Banque Populaire Caisse d’Epargne and Germany’s DZ Bank/WGZ Bank, with 24.5%

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