UPDATE 3-Austria's RBI earns growing share of profit from Russia

·2 min read

(Updates with CEO, shares)

By Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Tom Sims

VIENNA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International, one of the European banks most exposed to Russia, earned more than half of its profit last year from Russia, a market it is considering exiting after the invasion of Ukraine.

That is a larger share than in 2021, when Russia contributed almost a third to the group's net profit. The division has been helped by a stronger rouble.

Profit from Russia was 2.058 billion euros ($2.24 billion), while profit at the group was 3.797 billion euros, figures published by the bank on Wednesday showed.

RBI has been studying strategic options for the business, including a possible withdrawal, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, which Moscow calls a "special operation". RBI has warned that its effort may take some time.

"There are expressions of interest" for the Russia operations, CEO Johann Strobl told reporters at a news conference, adding that he was not able to elaborate.

"We are still in the analysis phase," he said.

RBI shares traded 2.1% lower on Wednesday morning. Analysts with Erste Group said investors had already "anticipated excellent results".

RBI has operated in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is Russia's 10th-largest bank by assets.

Even though its business there has contributed heavily to the group's profit, because of sanctions what it earns in Russia stays with its subsidiary there.

The number of employees in the country rose last year by 2.3% to 9,537 people, while the number of customers dropped 27% to 3.2 million.

The disclosure on Russia came out in a more detailed presentation of its 2022 financial year after the publication of key earnings figures late on Tuesday.

The Russia business has put RBI in a bind.

In Ukraine, where it also operates, RBI has been criticised for granting loan deferrals to Russian soldiers.

RBI has argued that it was legally obliged to do so, as are all Russian banks, and the Ukrainian subsidiary complies with all European Union legal requirements that recognise Ukraine's territorial, political and economic integrity.

"Of course it's a moral issue, there's no question about that at all," said Heinrich Schaller, head of Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberoesterreich, an RBI shareholder.

($1 = 0.9195 euros)

(Reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Tom Sims; Editing by Paul Carrel, Gerry Doyle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)