One of my targets as a president of “Andorra speaks Russian” association is to lend all possible assistance to Russia’s international business relations and work with Andorra and to offer potential areas of mutual interest and co-operation, says Baron von Dreyer and Count Minkievitch-Odrowaz

Baron von Dreyer and Count Minkievitch-Odrowaz

New public organization “Andorra Speaks Russian” is registered in Andorra (Pyrenees). The president of the organization Baron von Dreyer and Count Minkievitch-Odrowaz tells in the interview to about its plans and tasks for the future:

Interview: Mina Wenmaster

Why did you decide to set up association “Andorra Speaks Russian”? What does connect you with Russia?

My family history dates back to the IX century. The founder of my family was ennobled by Moravia’s king Saint Rostislav in the year 866 AD. Since those times our family has its own coat of arms and traditions (one of them is that all men of our family must wear a moustache as it is on our coat of arms). Since XIV until XX century my family had been living in Russia. My grandfather Baron Vladimir Nikolaevich von Dreyer was a Lieutenant General of Imperial Army. He attended the Russian Military Academy in Saint Petersburg. He participated in the First World War. Later Leon Trotsky asked him to be the first Marshal of the Soviet Union, but my grandfather refused to fight against his friends; instead he joined General Vrangel’s White Army of the South and fought against the Bolsheviks for three years. In 1922, when my mother was only 7 years-old, my family came to France as political refugees, having lost everything in their beloved homeland.

Actually, my family has two parts: German-Russian side with a family name von Dreyer and Kingdom of Greater Poland with a family name Minkievitch-Odrowaz. I am Baron von Dreyer and Count Minkievitch-Odrowaz.
As for myself, I was born in New York. My father was a General of the US Army. My first language was Russian, the second one is English and the third one is French. I also speak Italian, Chinese and Spanish.

I have been living in Andorra since 2004. My colleague and good friend Pere Auge (he is a vice president of CEA – “Association of businessmen of Andorra”) and I, we decided to set up the association “Andorra Speaks Russian” for many reasons. First of all, it is business oriented organization whose objective is to bring Russian-speaking people together to co-operate and help Andorra reach out to those countries which were part of the Russian Empire.

What are the purposes, tasks and plans of the association for this year?

It mostly depends on the results of the upcoming celebration of 20 years diplomatic relations between Russia and Andorra which is scheduled for June of this year. “Andorra speaks Russian” is invited to participate in this very important event. We will initiate to organize a meeting with Russian Ambassador in Spain to discuss our possible cooperation. The association wants to work very closely with Russian diplomacy and the Russian Orthodox Church.

One of my targets as a president of “Andorra speaks Russian” association is to lend all possible assistance to Russia’s diplomacy in its their relations and work with Andorra and to offer potential areas of mutual interest and co-operation. The association’s policy will mostly depend on it. This year we will try to understand how Andorra can improve its collaboration with Russia and Central Asian Countries. As association, I feel like we can make strong presentation of all Andorran services and all advantages of the country. One of the fundamental problems of Andorra is that it is so little known outside of Europe. What promotion the nation has had in Russia has been the unfortunate one of cheap ski tourism and fiscal paradise. This negative image must absolutely be replaced with that of a “New Andorra”.

At the other side, for many years I was in charge of land armament affairs between France and Republic of China (Taiwan). I am very familiar with Taiwan’s business representatives and government officials and have good access to the Mainland Chinese Government and Industry. Also I wish to promote personal contacts with high level Russian businessmen in UK, US, Europe as well as at post Soviet area: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan. So as a president of the association I can promote Andorra at the top business level in the world and attract investors to join in our work here. I believe that personal relationships and mutual trust and respect are crucial to improving business and diplomatic relations.

I have American and European associates who are ready to invest a lot of money into Andorran economy, in particular in ski resorts as we can readily see that such investment would contribute to improving infrastructure and therefore uplift the level of clientage and overall profitability. This is the key to a high level property market as is proven in the best ski villages in Europe and USA. We hope to build “six-stars” hotels in Andorra as well as to promote and construct extremely high level private properties integrated into luxury mountain villages with top level boutiques, shops, Michelin-star restaurants, a top level diagnostic health clinic, etc. There is no luxury property in Andorran market now as there is nothing to buy to attract the right customer. That is a problem I am determined to solve, using my family experience of hotels and chalets in the ski resorts of France. I am convinced that Andorra can become a top tourism destination for ultra-high net worth individuals if we provide what they seek in terms of infrastructure, communications, housing, shopping, and entertainment.

Who exactly is going to invest? Are you talking about a group of investors you have already found?

Yes, we have powerful investor-associates and we can access very substantial private equity. Besides properties, there is one more very important infrastructure aspect to be addressed and that is direct communication to Andorra by air. We propose that, in the immediate, the airport in La Seu d’Urgell, Catalonia, only 9 kilometers from Andorra, would be ideal for use by small to medium private jets with nonetheless excellent range, about 3,600 kilometers. You could fly direct from say, Kazan to La Seu d’Urgell! Flying from Moscow and St. Petersburg direct as well as from all major European capitals would be quite easy. However, there are two problems which must be resolved. The airport needs to have full Instrument Flying Regulation (IFR) navigation equipment, and more helipads need to be installed in Andorra. We are very interested in providing the financing and know-how to upgrade the airport and as well we would be requesting permission from the Andorra Authorities to install helipads within our real estate developments. This will ensure that those new residents arriving with their aircraft into La Seu Airport could transfer to their homes here in less than 5 minutes without having to deal with the sometimes hectic holiday road conditions between la Seu and Spanish Customs at the Spanish-Andorran border.

Is it good for commercial flights?

It’s impossible to make the airport bigger because it’s situated on a flat table mountain 50 meters above the valley floor, therefore the runway cannot be extended. This however is not of concern to us as I am only interested in private aviation, not commercial aviation. I believe that, for the moment, what commercial flights could be operated from La Seu Airport will be limited by aircraft size and flight frequency, just like in St. Moritz, Gstaad, etc. As an investor, I am interested in developing private aviation business as it’s more profitable and responds to a direct and immediate requirement. I also believe that Andorra must absolutely have direct air access. We therefore are as well studying two site to build “Altiports” directly within Andorra thereby allowing access without having to go through Spain; this is a matter of high priority for one of the major political parties in Andorra and we would welcome the opportunity to finance, construct, and operate this major infrastructure. I would prefer to build a mountain airport in Andorra but for the moment the Comus (Parish Governments of the towns in Andorra) are regrettably directly opposed to this, even though direct air access is becoming a matter of extreme urgency and a national priority.

How are you going to promote the association?

We propose to collaborate with the Government of Andorra,, in particular, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as with CEA. Also we would like to focus on social and mass media. This year we are going to participate in several events to make ourselves known. It helps Andorra to approach people who are ready to invest money in Europe and gives the association a chance to bring weighty Russian people as its members.

What kind of people would you like to see as members of the association?

It could be all level politicians, businessmen, artists linked by Russian language and Russian traditions on one side, but of course all those other non-Russian speakers who would wish to benefit from our relations. We are wholly open to anyone who wishes to join us to participate in helping to improve Andorra; we are wholly open to all points of view and to healthy and productive debate. At the same time I insist that we remain an absolutely apolitical association, as it is only in this way that we can become friends with everyone.

Is the association going to participate in any sponsor projects in Andorra? Or you are focused on only at commercial projects?

We don’t mind to participate in sponsor projects. But I don’t really know what kind of projects it could be for this moment. Now we are focused on commercial projects, this is a priority.

Who finances the association?

The association is presently financed by its founding members. We are currently reviewing the levels of the joining and membership fees.

In March of this year the Europe’s first foreign branch of the State Russian Museum was opened in Malaga (Andalusia), where constant basis exhibitions and events will be annually held. Whether creation of the Center of the Russian culture and language in the territory of Andorra similarly to what exists in Malaga is expedient?

I strongly believe that the best way to effect this rapprochement between our Great Slav Culture and Andorra is to build a Russian Orthodox Church here. Andorra’s history and very existence is intimately linked to The Roman Catholic Church who are in effect our Western Christian “Cousins”. The Co-Prince of Andorra, His Excellency Archbishop Vives, has been extremely kind towards us Orthodox Christian residents in Andorra in allowing us to hold our Liturgy once a month in the church of San Julia de Loria; I feel that we must do all we possibly can to build upon this kindness and goodwill and to demonstrate our deep appreciation in return.

I also believe that building a Center of Russian Culture in Andorra is also great idea to help in fostering a much better understanding between our peoples. I was delighted to learn that the owner of Carmen Thyssen museum in Madrid, Baroness Thyssen, changed her residence to Andorra several months ago. I understand that she has promised to Andorran Government to bring some of her tremendous collection to place on display here. I absolutely applaud such a pioneering move and our Association will lend all possible support to The Baroness as well as study how we could integrate a Russian Cultural center into one of our construction projects.

What do you think about prospects of development of tourism between Russia and Andorra? 

By its relations the Association can help bringing about substantive change in the current tourism model of inexpensive ski tours and cheap shopping. In 2013, several friends in St. Petersburg who own fabulous chalets in Megeve France, told me that Andorra was being promoted in their city as the “New Turkey” because ski tours were offered at incredibly cheap price. In such an environment, they rightfully questioned my concept of improving the quality of Andorra’s Russian tourists. With the devaluation of the rouble and western sanctions, Russian ski tourism to Andorra this year has been cut down massively, with a great negative impact on hotels, restaurants, and shops. Many decry this situation as “the end of Russian tourism”, etc. I consider that, on the contrary, this is a wonderful opportunity to change the tourism model for Russians from “new Turkey” to “New Megeve & Monaco”, so that the top level of Russian Society prefer coming to Andorra! Furthermore, the Central Asian Republics’ economies are growing at a tremendous rate and they are starting to come to Western Europe for tourism, to buy holiday properties, and to invest. Our Association is in a unique position to seduce these ultra high net worth visitors to see for themselves all the advantages that Andorra has to offer and to invest here.

In conclusion I’d like to say in conclusion, that recent events, in addition to the economic crisis, have dealt terrible blows to Andorra’s economy and quality of life; some even believe that the banking scandal is a death-blow to the nation. I absolutely and totally reject any such notion! On the contrary, I fervently believe, as do the founding members of the Association, that this is a time of great opportunity for Andorra to re-invent itself, to change its business model, and to take advantage of all the great gifts that this wonderful country has to offer. Andorra is small, unique, and therefore by its very nature vulnerable to powerful external geo-political forces. Our Association can perhaps contribute, in the best way possible, to Andorra having powerful new partners and friends to help it weather this storm and to build upon its tremendous future potential.

Contacts of “Andorra speaks Russian” association you can find here

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