Kremlin envoy: Ventspils unlikely to see more oil

  • 2007-06-27
  • From wire reports
MOSCOW - The Kremlin's top envoy to the European Union has said that the transit of Russian crude via Latvia's port in Ventspils was unlikely to return to previous levels when the Baltic port was the Soviet Union's second largest maritime export route.
Speaking to Baltic journalists on June 22, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the EU, said, "I think there are many reasons for the Russian transit through Ventspils to have been exhausted. The transit is not likely to reach the previous level."

Yastrzhembsky said that Russia is still focusing on establishing its own transit system in St. Petersburg and the Primorsk oil terminal, which began operating at the end of 2001. "Our goal is to develop this infrastructure, to make it one of the largest and most competitive ports in the Baltic Sea," he said.
Due to Primorsk, Russia's shipments of crude oil through Ventspils started declining in 2002, and at the beginning of 2003 all shipments via pipeline ceased. Crude now handled in Ventspils is delivered by train.
It was a drastic reversal of fortune for Latvia's largest port. At one point the Ventspils oil terminal, launched in 1961, was second only to Novorossisk on the Black Sea coast in terms of throughput, and in 1983 handled 33 million tons of crude oil and oil products, a record.
By contrast, last year Ventspils saw some 15.2 million tons of petroleum-based products pass through its terminals. Ventbunkers, the primary oil handler, transshipped 9.3 million and Ventspils Nafta Terminals another 5.7 million tons. 

Many industry insiders, including Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, who is now in jail awaiting trial, claim that rates at the Ventspils port are competitive 's even better than those at Primorsk. What's more, Primorsk freezes in the winter, while Ventspils doesn't.
Finally, there was the incident in 2003 when the chiefs of four Russian oil majors wrote a joint appeal to the Russian government asking permission to export oil via Ventspils due to bottlenecks in the pipeline system. Their request was denied, leaving many to believe that the decision not to use Latvia as an export route is purely political.

This, and similar decisions by Moscow to either cut off energy supplies or raise prices sharply in relation to other former Soviet republics 's Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania and Belarus 's have led to the irrefutable conclusion that the Kremlin is using its energy resources as a tool of foreign policy.
Yet Yastrzhembsky denies this. He insisted that Russia is a reliable energy partner for Europe.
"The EU is a privileged energy partner of Russia. I think we have been honestly performing our obligations toward the EU for several decades," he stressed.
"There are no reasons to accuse Russia of endangering the European economy. Still, if you are not satisfied, seek alternatives. Europe has the rights to decide where to buy gas and oil," he said.
"Russia has been doing and will do everything to let Europe feel comfortable in the energy sphere," he added. 
He reiterated that Europe is "an irreplaceable partner" for Russia, and vice versa. "No one plans to blackmail Europe or use energy supplies for reaching any political targets," he said.
Yastrzhembsky said that Europe's attempts to diversify its energy system should be welcomed, adding that Europe has not got much further than just talking on the issue. "There is a lot of talking and no result. Talks alone about diversification of the energy system and decreasing the dependence on Russia are not enough to heat houses in Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius or Berlin," he said.

Yastrzhembsky said the EU first needs to build new ports and gas pipelines to deliver the liquid gas or new nuclear power plants to replace other energy resources, but this is not being done.
He pointed out the trend of rising energy supplies from Russia to the EU. What's more, new cooperation projects are being developed to expand energy cooperation. He mentioned the new German-Russian gas pipeline project and the new Burgas-Alexandrupolis oil pipeline that will join Bulgaria and Greece with Russia.
Data from the European Commission show that the EU accounts for more than 40 percent of Russian gas exports and 30 percent of oil exports.