Robert HARNEIS -TDO-  (FRANCE) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and German economy minister Peter Altmaier have unveiled a Mercedes-Benz car plant in Russia, praising co-operation between the two countries.“We will support such projects in the future for sure,” Putin said at an opening ceremony outside Moscow.

Germany’s Daimler began construction of a Mercedes-Benz plant at an industrial park some 50km north-west of Moscow in 2017, investing more than €250m in the factory.The high-end Daimler brand, which also assembles commercial vehicles in Russia, will produce sedans and SUVs at the new plant. The car maker plans to produce 25,000 vehicles a year there and employ about 1,000 people.“Mercedes cars will be popular with Russian consumers for sure,” Putin said, adding that he has driven a Mercedes.

Altmaier, on his third visit to Russia since he became economy minister last year, said the factory is “proof that Russia and Germany can develop their co-operation”.

“Of course, we should resolve our political problems, we must make sure that conflicts end. But at the same time, we should develop economic relations,” Altmaier said. He added that a “prosperous Russia is in the interest of a prosperous Germany.”

Following a period of growth and massive investment by global automotive makers, Russia’s car market fell sharply between 2013 and 2016. Russia’s economy has been affected by international sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis as well as a fall in global oil prices.

Last week, US car maker Ford said it would close two assembly plants in Russia after deciding to stop making passenger cars there due to poor car sales.However, Mercedes-Benz, as with many other high-end brands, has weathered the Russian crisis.

Trade turnover between Russia and its second largest trade partner, Germany, increased 8.4 percent and reached nearly €62 billion in 2018 compared to previous year, according to the German trade lobby.

Year-on-year imports from Russia to Germany expanded 14.7 percent, amounting to €36 billion ($40 billion). Export to Russia rose by 0.6 percent to €25.9 billion ($29 billion), the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce, which represents over 800 German firms, reported on Monday citing the Federal Statistical Office.This is despite sanctions against Moscow and threats from the US to penalize German companies involved in the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

“German business has successfully increased exports to Russia despite the market difficulties, sanctions and counter-sanctions. This has also improved our expectations for 2019,” the chairman of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce, Matthias Schepp, said in a February statement.

At the end of last year, Schepp said German firms boosted their investment in the Russian economy in spite of economic sanctions, adding such an investment volume has rarely been seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in May, the head of the German trade lobby said that it's not only car manufacturers investing heavily in Russia but medium-sized businesses as well.

Germany is Russia's second largest trade partner, behind China.

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