Activists in Finland are calling on the government to crack down more quickly on state-owned companies that continue to import raw materials from Russia, saying it only benefits the Russian government and the oligarchs and helps fund the war in Ukraine.
New sanctions to ban imports of Russian coal will benefit from a grace period of four months to terminate the contracts. But activists and politicians across Europe have stressed that continuing the trade goes against the spirit of the sanctions and provides the Russian government with a steady stream of revenue.
“Kramatorsk today,” Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of a blood-soaked child’s toy, following a Russian attack that killed more than 50 people Friday.
“The EU has paid another €1 billion to Russia since this happened,” Sovsun said. “Every day. 1 billion euros sent to these monsters who kill, rape and torture Ukrainians.”
Russian cargo imports
Of particular concern for Greenpeace Suomi are shipments of coal in transit on three routes through Finland to Finnish ports for further international export. Two of these routes are operated by the Finnish public railway company VR, while the third is operated by the Estonian public railway company EVR.
While VR said in March it had halted passenger and freight service between Finland and Russia, this transit “loophole” continues to generate revenue for the company, providing mine owners in Siberia with a easy route west for their products, and activists want it. stop immediately.
“People are being killed. And we are funding it,” says Matti Liimatainen of Greenpeace Suomi.
VR initially told Euronews that there were “ongoing” discussions on how to “suspend eastbound traffic entirely”, but that they were awaiting sanctions to give them “the strongest grounds” for do it.
However, within 24 hours the position had changed and they now say they aim to stop the transport of goods of Russia “as quickly as possible” but admits that the process will still take “several months”.
VR says it will comply with all new sanctions, although it is unclear whether shipments in transit for onward export would still be permitted under the specifics of the sanctions, which target member states that purchase any type of Russian coal or related derivatives.
The company states that “if the EU and therefore Finland will specifically sanction, for example, the import/export of coal, we will follow these guidelines and timetables”.
Coal tracking from Siberian mines to Finnish ports
Greenpeace Suomi has tracked the origins of coal shipments from Russia to Finland.
In a detailed information documentthe NGO tracks coal from the mines operated by a company called Sibanthracite in Novosibirsk to the Finnish west coast ports of Hanko and Pori nearly 4,000km away – and it’s a tangled web.
The sibanthracite belongs to an oligarch called Albert Avdolyanan EU national with a Maltese ‘golden passport’ whose companies have run fossil fuel joint ventures with Russian arms firm Rostec.
Previously, Sibanthracite belonged to another oligarch called Dimitri Bosov who was a close associate of Vladimir Putin but who was found dead from a gunshot wound at his home in Moscow in May 2020.
According to data provided by rail operator VR to Euronews, the company typically handles around 12.3 million tonnes of freight between Finland and Russia every year, and that figure has halved since the Russian invasion of the ‘Ukraine.
Activists don’t see why the number can’t drop to zero, given the scale of Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
“I would say that this transport of coal through Finland is a completely useless activity that has nothing to do with warming our homes, that’s an inaccurate excuse,” says Liimatainen.
“Then you take this coal transport business through Finland, the only ones who profit from it are the Russian oligarchs and the state-owned railway companies in Finland and Estonia, they don’t even make a lot of money from it. is horribly wasteful business,” he told Euronews.
Finnish government response
Within the Finnish government, Tytti Tuppurainen is the minister responsible for state-owned enterprises such as the VR railway company, the oil refining company Neste, the national airline Finnair and even Alko, the chain of stores that sell stronger alcohol not available in supermarkets.
She told Euronews that Finland is committed to the sanctions the EU has imposed on Russia so far and believes that nothing should be ruled out when it comes to further sanctions.
“Stopping freight transport, including coal transport, is an operational decision, which belongs to the management of VR, in accordance with the principles of good governance. However, I am sure that the company will listen carefully to the points of view of the landlord state,” Tuppurainen said, before VR announced it would stop Russian coal shipments in several months.
Rail operator VR isn’t the only Finnish company campaigners find problematic.
At the beginning of April activists tried to prevent the unloading of coal on a wharf in the Finnish capital that had sailed from a Russian port to the Helsinki municipal electricity company, Helen.
This company announced in March that it stop importing coal from Russia to be used in its Helsinki power plant – but now says it honors contracts already in placeit is unlikely to be the last shipment.
It is a similar situation with the oil refining company Neste, also majority-owned by the Finnish state. In early March, the company said it had “mostly” replaced Russian crude oil with oil from elsewhere, but in early April he admitted he was still carrying Russian oil shipments.
“I think even now most people don’t know that our public companies are involved in this kind of stuff,” says Matti Liimatainen of Greenpeace Suomi.
“The reaction I’ve seen on social media now is how shocked people are that it’s taking so long and the processes are so slow to stop it, and we hope the Finnish government can speed things up, they could do it practically any day.”