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VTB Bank to Open New Branches in Occupied Ukraine, Expands Presence in Annexed Territories

WorldRussiaVTB Bank to Open New Branches in Occupied Ukraine, Expands Presence in Annexed Territories

In a bold move reflecting Russia’s intensified efforts to integrate occupied Ukrainian territories, VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest lender, announced on Tuesday its plan to open new branches in the disputed regions.

The bank’s expansion aims to bolster financial services in areas recently annexed by Moscow amid ongoing geopolitical tensions.

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According to a statement from VTB, the bank will inaugurate two new branches in Luhansk in July. By the year’s end, it intends to extend its customer services to Mariupol and Donetsk.

These cities, located in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, were annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the fall of 2022, alongside the partially occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. The statement did not specify any plans for expansion into the latter two regions.

VTB Bank was among the first financial institutions targeted by Western sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The sanctions included its exclusion from the SWIFT global payment system, significantly impacting its international operations.

Despite these challenges, VTB’s move to establish a presence in the occupied territories indicates a strategic shift in response to geopolitical developments and directives from the Kremlin.

Historically, large Russian banks had been cautious about operating in territories seized from Ukraine due to the risk of sanctions.

However, the full-scale war has altered this cautious approach. VTB, which is majority state-owned, began operating in annexed Crimea through its subsidiary, the sanctioned Russian National Commercial Bank, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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The latest announcement comes several months after President Putin urged Russian banks to be “more proactive” in expanding their services to what the Kremlin now refers to as its “new territories.”

In a statement earlier this year, Putin remarked, “Everything that was feared before the sanctions has already happened, so there is nothing to be afraid of.”

VTB’s financial performance has reflected the turbulent economic conditions under sanctions. The bank recorded a significant loss of 667.5 billion rubles ($7.5 billion) in 2022 due to the sanctions.

However, it rebounded strongly in 2023, earning a record 432.2 billion rubles ($4.7 billion). This turnaround is attributed to the bank’s strategic adjustments and increased domestic operations.

Andrei Kostin, the sanctioned CEO of VTB and a close associate of President Putin, emphasized the bank’s commitment to serving its clients in these new regions.

“VTB is where our client is. Today, we’re going to our clients in the new regions,” Kostin said, underscoring the bank’s alignment with the Kremlin’s broader geopolitical strategies.

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The expansion of VTB into Luhansk, Mariupol, and Donetsk highlights Russia’s efforts to normalize and integrate the occupied territories into its economic and administrative frameworks.

It also signals a defiance of international sanctions and a consolidation of Russian presence in the disputed areas. As the situation in Ukraine remains volatile, the international community continues to monitor developments closely.

The establishment of new bank branches in the annexed territories is likely to draw further criticism and potential economic repercussions from Western nations, deepening the financial and diplomatic rift between Russia and the West.

 

This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members

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