Speaking on vacation from the beach in Mauritius, Rustam Aliev says he and his colleagues at Goltsblat BLP in Moscow are “looking forward to 2017.”
Indeed, Aliev reports an increase in legal activity “even at the end of last year,” as Russia continues to struggle through “difficult times with oil prices, sanctions, and international political tensions,” which he describes as “not very helpful.” Still, Aliev says, “even with the sanctions, people are still interested in the really good profits in Russia,” as “pretty much all big Western companies are continuing to make good money here.” In addition, the ruble ended last year in a stronger position compared to the dollar and a number of other currencies, making ruble-denominated assets increasingly valuable, and thus attractive to potential investors. This, he said, “should continue into 2017.”
He concedes most activity is coming from internal Russian M&A, but, Aliev says, pointing to several political deals of significance in the Russian Far East, “thus, we note increasing interest from Asian investors, including Chinese and Japanese.” He also sees a rise in interest from the Middle East —“we’re seeing interest from the Saudis, Qataris, and from Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he says, though he warns, “it takes time, obviously.” He explains: “A number of deals closed last year with new foreign investors, but it takes time for them to get to know Russia and opportunities here.” As a result, he says, “we expect to see more this year.” In addition, he reports, “some hedge funds and PE fund from the US and the West, which are cautious, obviously, but attracted by the huge yields in Russia."
In short, Aliev says, “we are cautiously optimistic, because we see some real business opportunities. If everything keeps going as it has — and there are no other political or economic crises — we will see increasing business investments.”
When asked, Aliev says “it’s simply too early" to see any effects of Donald Trump’s election on business in Russia. Besides, he notes with a smile, “we all know how politics work; it’s one thing to say something during a campaign, and another to actually implement it once you’re elected.” In addition, he notes, “there’s a lot of controversy about Trump’s election in the United States, in part because of Trump’s alleged connections with Vladimir Putin, so it’s not clear what’s going to happen, and I think he’ll probably focus first on domestic and internal issues.” Finally, he says, “I think everyone in Russia thinks his election is the lesser of two evils (at least for Russia), and there is some sentiment that maybe it will result in the removal of the sanctions … but it is not only the President who makes such decisions, so nobody knows for sure.”
Finally, when asked about the state of the legal market in Moscow, he says “we’ve seen the legal business shrinking for the last few years. This is something expected.” Still, he says, while “nothing is super-growing, some of the law firms in Russia are continuing their steady growth.” He’s proud to identify Goltsblat BLP as one of those firms which is growing steadily, adding Chinese and Japanese desks over the past few years, among other developments.