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January 8 – January 14, 2024
Belarus-Russia relations

Export Expansion: Maritime Aspirations

The situation has not changed
Export Expansion: Maritime Aspirations
Скриншот: фильм "Достучаться до небес"

Minsk is actively exploring the possibility of establishing its own port infrastructure in Russia, with a current focus on the potential construction of a port in Primorye.

On November 11, the Belarusian Ambassador to Russia, Dmitry Krutoy, and the Governor of the Primorsky Territory, Oleg Kozhemyako, discussed logistics and industrial cooperation in Moscow. Krutoy revealed Belarus’s keen interest in expanding collaboration with this distant Russian region and expressed intentions to build its own port in Primorye. Discussions with the governor had already taken place, exploring options for either a 100% Belarusian port or a joint venture with the Russian side.

According to the Belarusian government’s plan, as communicated by Krutoy, the regional port in Primorye could serve as a crucial point on the transit route to China. Additionally, Krutoy emphasized the need to establish cargo routes with regions such as Kamchatka and Magadan in two directions. “One-way traffic is impossible here; no economy can stand it. But if we find bilateral cargo flows with an eye also on China, then all this will work,” suggested Krutoy.

Targeting a major “potassium route” through the Far East is a bold move, especially considering plans to create port infrastructure in the North-West region of Russia. In early 2023, during a meeting on exports, Lukashenko urged the expedited construction of Belarusian ports in Russia, emphasizing the need for quick and cost-effective development. Subsequently, he revisited this topic multiple times.

The exact details of these plans remain unclear, except for the likelihood that the Belarusian port might be situated near St. Petersburg. Alternatively, Belarus might opt not to build anything and instead purchase the Bronka complex (the deep-water port of St. Petersburg). Such speculations circulated last year, but in March, the Russian government ordered the sale of the sea terminal, including its operator and owner of all assets, Phoenix LLC, to the Moscow-based company NKK-Logistic for RUB 11 billion. Interestingly, NKK-Logistic, established only two years ago, lacks a telephone number, and its website is non-functional.

In December, the governor of the Murmansk region, Andrei Chibis, revealed that Belarus retains plans to build a port near Murmansk and is actively working on the project.

Apart from the construction/purchase of sea terminals by Belarus (or expansion of existing capacities), there’s also the challenge of delivering Belarusian cargo by rail. In late August, the Railways of Russia and Belarus entered an agreement on the development and modernization of infrastructure for transporting goods to the ports of the North-West region of Russia until 2026. Addressing the Primorye situation, this challenge becomes even more acute, considering the substantial distance from Minsk to Vladivostok (over 9.7 thousand km, compared to 790 km to St. Petersburg). Primorye and the central region of Russia are connected by a railway line of limited capacity, and future discussions about its partial modernization may arise.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications reports that currently, 20 Russian ports are used to process Belarusian exports, with the ports of the Leningrad region and St. Petersburg being the most utilized. Murmansk sees less traffic in comparison. Approximately 80% of cargo is transshipped through these key ports. Before the introduction of sanctions, Belarus used the ports of the Baltic republics and Ukraine for exporting goods, but after the sanctions, Minsk successfully found a viable alternative.

The total volume of transshipment for Belarusian cargo through Russian ports by the year-end is estimated at around 15 million tons. To put this in perspective, during the peak period in 2019, 18.8 million tons were handled through the ports of the Baltics and Ukraine.

The question of the feasibility of building its own port infrastructure remains unresolved at the level of the Belarusian government. Experts suggest that Belarus reached the limit of redistributing commodity flows as part of the “export maneuver” early last year, having tapped into most available markets. While these measures helped Minsk maintain control over the country’s socio-economic situation, further expansion in export capacity appears to be limited.

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