Whether the Belarusian cargo will leave the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda is one of the main intrigues of 2022 in the Baltic Sea region. The likelihood that Belaruskali will still be kicked out of Lithuania is quite high, because blocking the transit of Belarusian potash fertilizers is an effective instrument of pressure on the Belarusian leadership. Minsk missed the moment to work on the reorientation of the Belarusian cargo traffic from the Baltic to Russia, while it wasand time and opportunity, and now it simply will not have time to do it if Lithuania closes transit all at once.
In Lithuania, as in Latvia, talking about sanctions is a popular political genre. Politicians are not particularly interested in the fact that in many cases local business will also suffer, and not only Belarusian.
For example, in Lithuania, the transit freeze is a powerful blow to the railways. Pointless investment in infrastructure and its very development. There is a threat of degradation of the huge transport and logistics system. And, of course, the volume of traffic is falling catastrophically.
Something similar already happened in Latvia almost 10 years ago. Then the railway workers’ union even drew up an angry appeal and asked the Belarusian state media to publish it. The message was clear and short: you, comrades, deputies of the Diet, political toys, and we – losses. Would you like to compensate?
But it is useless to ask these questions. Both Lithuania and Latvia are not influential powers.
In order to somehow raise their importance in stronger Western partners, they play on their position as transit countries, as well as on their potential role as military footholds.
Estonia is generally more cautious. This country has been trying to attract transit flows both from Belarus and to Belarus for a long time, without much advertising. This is done not by the state, but by private capital. Usually checked with a private port in Sillamäe.
The only problem is: Latvia and Lithuania can impede the delivery of goods by land. So the Estonian option, if Minsk faces new frictions with Vilnius and Riga, is not the most reliable one. This is only a temporary solution for certain parties.
Strategically, the problem could have been solved several years ago.
Russia is actively developing Ust-Luga and, in general, the port infrastructure of the Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg. Minsk was openly offered to transfer freight flows there. But the Belarusians played their traditional role of a situational player, trying to get a discount or some other benefit.
In fact, there is one here, and it is expressed in three words: reliability, stability and predictability. That is, this story is not about a shorter transport arm. This is in many ways a political moment.
In this chess game it was clear for a long time that the Baltic states cannot be strategic structures of Belarus, but Russia can.
And against the backdrop of the protests of 2020, when serious EU sanctions and a sharp deterioration in relations with the West really loomed, Minsk itself suddenly offers transit to Ust-Luga. Although in the recent past he said: “Well, we’ll think about it.”
Moreover, Alexander Lukashenko in September 2020 told the Governor of the Leningrad Region Alexander Drozdenko that a port could be jointly built in the region.
Then, one after another, packages of sanctions began.
It became clear that if not all transit, then at least a substantial part of it from the Baltic countries should definitely be taken to Russia.
Sometimes there were ideas from Kiev about the development of a river corridor to the Black Sea. This is an old idea. There are many nuances of the guarantee and, again, there is no guarantee that Ukraine does not begin to give preference to politics to the detriment of business.
And now the situation is as follows. Many Western companies are forced to come in the near future to curtail relations with Belarusian potash producers and other generators of freight traffic. Belarus needs to transfer almost all of its exports to Russia or through Russia.
For potassium, this is again Ust-Luga.
But it will not be possible to redirect all cargoes at once. If preparations had begun a few years ago, now everything would be fast.
Such large terminal operators in the ports of the Leningrad region as Ultramar and EuroChem are not yet able to provide Belarusian potash transit through Russia. Moreover, for some reason Minsk spoiled relations with a native of Belarus Dmitry Mazepin, who could join forces with Belaruskali and the Belarusian Potash Company (BKK). Earlier Mazepin also transported more cargo through the Baltic States (mainly the port of Riga), and now he leaves for Ust-Luga, investing there in the creation of terminals.
Together with it, a new potash port could be built. While this is unlikely.
There is also Murmansk, but it is definitely too far away. The economic sense is lost. Russia will not agree to big discounts on railway transportation to this port, which is far from Belarus.
BPC received permission from the US government to trade potash on the global market in the first quarter of 2022. But then what? The transit through Lithuania to the cell can actually be closed.
No matter how the stakeholders in the Baltic republic itself oppose, they will not stop the movement of lithospheric plates.
A vivid evidence of this is the desire of the “Lithuanian Railways” to return the advance payment to “Belaruskali” for the future transportation of its products. The decision was made at the level of the prime minister. Everything is more than serious.
In this text, we have considered mainly potash cargo. This is approximately 10 million tons per year. And there are a number of other positions. The likelihood that they will be closed in the Baltics has always been and has been high. And this is already happening.
For example, the turn from the gate was given to the products of “BelAZ”.
It remains to be hoped that the transit problem will be resolved jointly with Russia. Another question is how much effort. And how fast. The problem is that time is running out for Belarus anymore.