Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola has announced that it is to merge its operations in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus into one new division reflecting the growing importance of these markets to the group.

The new division will be headquartered in Moscow and will be headed up by Clyde Tuggle, currently the company's worldwide public affairs and communications chief.

"Over the past several years, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have assumed increasing importance in our company's current and future business plans," said Muhtar Kent, head of Coke's North Asia, Eurasia and Middle East group, in an internal memorandum to Coke employees published by Reuters. "The area's growing economy represents a significant opportunity for our company, given its combined population of more than 200 million people and its expansive geography."