FARGO (AP) - Turmoil in Ukraine is causing concern for some North Dakota companies that do business in the former Soviet Republic.
North Dakota has a strong trade relationship with Ukraine, and the North Dakota Trade Office maintains a full-time trade representative there. North Dakota exports to the Ukraine last year - mainly in the agriculture industry - totaled $22 million, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who traveled there with a group of eight senators last weekend.
Officials fear trade could be hurt by unrest in the country. Russian forces effectively took control of Crimea a couple of weeks ago and Russia formally annexed the peninsula on Tuesday following a referendum in which the population overwhelmingly voted to secede from Ukraine. The U.S. and European Union call that vote unlawful given the Russian military presence, and have imposed sanctions on Russia. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced plans to withdraw its military from the peninsula.
"We traveled to Ukraine not only to see what is happening on the ground, but also to ensure that we enact smart sanctions in a way that deters Russian aggression, but doesn't hurt our economy or our allies," said Hoeven, who organized trade missions to Ukraine in 2006 and 2008 when he was North Dakota's governor. "We need to use sanctions to deter Russia, but we want to make sure we help Ukraine and the European Union and that we don't negatively affect North Dakota and other U.S. companies operating there."
Fargo-based Amity Technology has been selling agriculture machinery in Ukraine for nearly two decades. CEO Howard Dahl just returned from his 71st trip to the country, where protesters in the capital Kiev have been shot dead in the streets, WDAY-TV reported.
"To see where these students were shot by snipers, it was a bit like walking the beaches of Normandy, where people fought bravely for freedom, and died," Dahl said.
Olga Hall, international marketing director for Fargo-based Titan Machinery, said history has shown that instability in Ukraine is not good for business.
"People shut down and don't buy anything," Hall said.
Other North Dakota companies that have a big presence in Ukraine include Fargo-based RDO Equipment Co., which has four dealerships in Ukraine and employs 60 people there, and Kindred-based Superior Manufacturing, a grain bin maker that sells in Ukraine, Romania, Kazakhstan and Russia.