Ukrainian, US and Latvian financial intelligence agencies are warning that Russia is using Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries to circumvent sanctions. Journalists in the Baltic have already discovered certain cases when wood was brought to us from Russia and Belarus with the help of companies in these countries. On the other hand, a Swiss company whose owner is accused of sponsoring the “Wagner” group was active in the hard coal trade in Latvia last year, the “Nekā peresika” program reported.
Coal is exported via Latvia by a company accused of financing the “Vagner” group
The sanctions against Russia are the most extensive international leverage of influence ever applied. The European Union, the United States, and many other countries froze the money and assets of certain individuals and companies, and also banned the trade of certain goods. But Western products, even military ones, continue to enter Russia. On the other hand, exports continue in the sectors under sanctions in the west of this country. The investigative bodies of Ukraine, the USA and other countries suspect that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries are helping the aggressor state.
At the end of last year, Latvian and Lithuanian journalists in a joint study discovered that wood from Russia and Belarus comes to us under the guise of certificates of these countries.
“Public databases showed that a huge amount of wood suddenly appeared from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It should be noted that these countries do not have timber superpowers, they own 5-6% of the forests, and therefore basically have nothing to export here. Buy anything from them. but suddenly they have become big mega exporters to Europe,” explains “Re:Baltıca” correspondent Inese Liepiņa.
Lithuanian customs said the increase was suspicious and likely related to avoidance of sanctions. Research by journalists confirmed these suspicions.
“The sanctioned wood from Russia and Belarus comes to Latvia and other European countries and is labeled as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. These types are very different, the documents are fake – for example, a small company producing certificates is registered in Kazakhstan.
THEY APPROVE THIS WOOD FROM RUSSIA, THEY APPROVE IT IN KAZAKHSTAN, AND THEN THEY BRING IT HERE FROM RUSSIA. WOOD DOES NOT GO TO KAZAKHSTAN AND ENTER THE EUROPEAN UNION, IT ACTUALLY COMES FROM RUSSIA,” SAYS LIEPIŅA.
He adds: “These wood smugglers say it’s better to choose Latvia and Poland because, I quote, they ‘ask less questions’, that is, border guards. I don’t know if that’s true. But they have some reason to claim that… There’s no data or evidence that it’s actually easier to get around this somehow.”
Latvian customs, on the other hand, reports that they are retaining three cargoes of wood labeled as Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, but actually coming from Russia and Belarus. Last year, imports from these countries in Latvia rose from small figures to tens of millions of euros.
Despite sanctions and bans, the volume of cargo transported in transit grew last year. This was largely due to coal. By rail, they moved five times more than in previous years.
Until August, Russian coal was still allowed to be imported into Europe. They can now only be taken in transit to third countries. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have now replaced Russian coal on the Latvian railways at the ports.
“It started last year with Kazakhstan’s huge interest in increasing the volume of Kazakh coal via Latvia. That was before the war started. Kazakhstan was always interested, but Russia also influences transit through its territory,” he says. Andris Maldups, Department of Transport Logistics and International Cooperation Coordination, Ministry of Transport.
In previous years, Cossacks did not transport coal via Latvia, as Russia did not allow its territory to be used for transit. However, it did not put any barriers to the transport of Kazakh coal throughout the past year. Calls for containment only appeared in the Russian media at the end of the year. This happened after Kazakh authorities pledged to international partners to limit the circumvention of sanctions through the country.
THE LATVIAN MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT DOUBTS THAT KAZAKH COAL MAY BE OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN. PRODUCT FLOW PATHS TEND TO BE ILLOGICAL.
“There have also been cases where the European Union was interested in a ship entering a Latvian port from a Russian port. The question is, what kind of coal is this? We contacted the customs authorities and got another confirmation. Maldup, yes – it is confirmed and it is coal of Kazakh origin” says.
The State Revenue Service confirmed that there were attempts to smuggle coal. In ten cases, the importation of such cargo was refused. In one case, the coal was labeled as Kazakhstan, but accompanying documents revealed that the country of origin was Russia.
Customs has launched 180 criminal actions for evading sanctions. The Financial Intelligence Service received 274 reports from financial institutions on attempts to circumvent sanctions.
Companies transporting coal via Latvia are not visible to the public. However, the Central Bureau of Statistics has provided us with data on the largest coal importers and exporters. In both categories SIA “Baltijas ogles” is one of the biggest. The co-owner of the company, Konstantin Yanakovs, runs a coal mining and trading company in Russia. Eduards Janakovs, a former member of the Russian Duma and former publisher of the Latvian Russian media “Vesti Segodnya”, “Čas” and “Telegraf”, also worked under the management of the same company.
The Swiss company “Telf AG” is also included in the list of the largest exporters. Its real owner is considered to be Stanislav Kondrašov. It is very difficult to find reliable information about both this person and the company.
There are hundreds of posts on the Russian and Ukrainian pages about Kondrashov’s possible connection to the murder of Russian Duma deputy Voronenkov in Kiev in 2017 and the possibility of Kondrashov financing the Russian mercenary army “Wagner”. But a simple Google search won’t reflect that. On the other hand, the database of applications received by Google shows a large number of documents, where some people try to exclude unfavorable search results. For example, this app lists one and a half thousand pages where Kondrashov is mentioned.
Google analysts conclude that this is an organized attempt to abuse procedures designed to protect copyright and prevent libel. The company received 33,000 submissions for articles mentioning Kondrashov.
IT HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTING A NEW STRATEGY IN RECENT MONTHS. DOZENS OF ARTICLES APPEARED IN THE MEDIA IN INDIA, AFRICA AND ELSEWHERE CITING KONDRASHOV AS AN ANALYST FOR THE MINING COMPANY “TELF”.
What is “Telf AG” and why it’s been so important in the past few months to fill the information field with unbiased articles is illustrated by data that activists leaked about Latin American mining companies early last year. Internal emails revealed that companies are responsible for negligence, deliberate pollution and human deaths. In November, the United States included several companies and individuals operating in Guatemala, including “Pronico” and “Mayaniquel”, in the Magnitsky sanctions. The leaked emails show that Telf is the real owner of these companies.
In Latvia, 85 million euros were frozen in the bank accounts of people included in the sanction lists, including the ABLV bank in the liquidation process.