In this June 2013 photo, a large metal truss sits assembled in a field at Behlen Industries as a mock-up for an order that will be sent to Russia.
A conflict on the other side of the world could have life-threatening economic ramifications for a business in Brandon.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to work to annex Crimea from Ukraine, Behlen Industries vice-president Sean Lepper can’t help but wonder what impact the conflict will have on the Brandon-based company.
Just last year, Behlen opened an office in Moscow, the capital of Russia, in order to make inroads within the burgeoning market.
The office staffs about five employees, including a translator, engineer and legal support. It’s Behlen’s first office outside of North America.
The steel building manufacturer has cultivated stong relationships in the country over the past decade, paying dividends when they were awarded the contract to construct the world’s largest frameless steel building in Siberia.
Lepper said Behlen is currently at one stage or another on about a dozen projects in Russia, and continues to work closely with the Ministry of Sport for the Russian Federation.
"It’s certainly a concern and we’re monitoring it very closely," Lepper said.
While the Canadian government has issued travel bans and asset freezes on a number of high-ranking Russian and Ukrainian officials linked to the conflict, outside of political posturing there has been little talk about an all out trade embargo between Canada and Russia.
"At this point there has been no economic sanctions and we’re not aware of any that will be coming into to place, which would be our big concern," Lepper said. "(Our business) isn’t something that sprung up overnight and it shouldn’t go away that fast, although it could if there was a major sanction from the G7. An economic sanction could stop our business overnight."
Lepper has spoken to Canada’s ambassador to Russia, John Kur, and Maxime Bernier, federal minister of state for small business and tourism, and said he feels comfortable it’s business as usual at their office in Moscow.
As anti-government demonstrations heated up in Ukraine last month, some of Behlen’s top executives were a stone’s throw away from Kiev Square, the epicentre of the protests.
They were there taking part in an agricultural expo facilitated through the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership.
They left less than a week before several protesters were killed in clashes in the Square.
"They were literally there between the major demonstrations," Lepper said. "We debated about whether it was a good idea to go, but at the time when they left it looked like everything had calmed down and it looked liked everything was OK and safe ... I’m not sure we would do that again."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 20, 2014