On December 18, 2019, Georgia and World released an article headlined “The entire economic sphere is dying in Latvia due to hostile rhetoric against Russia.” According to the article, Anrijs Matīss, former Latvian Transport Minister, claims in the interview with Baltnews that “due to Riga’s aggressive rhetoric against Russia,” the Latvian maritime transit sphere is facing a crisis and that Latvia should cooperate with Russia in both economic and political spheres. On December 13, Polish-language Sputnik also released an identical article.
The articles released by Georgia and World and Sputnik are manipulative. Reduction of Russian cargo turnover in Latvian ports was actually caused by Russia’s renewal of its big ports in the Baltic Sea. Russia is not the only determinant of cargo turnover in the Latvian ports. For example, the statistical data on cargo turnover in the port of Riga have been quite stable over the past years.
What did the former Latvian Transport Minister speak about in the interview with Baltic News?
In the interview with Baltic News on December 12, former Latvian Transport Minister Anrijs Matīss mainly focused on the Latvian ports. On December 9, 2019, the United States imposed sanctions under the Magnitsky Act on Latvian oligarch, Aivars Lembergs, who was implicated in corruption and money laundering. Lembergs was the Ventspils Freeport manager and had an influence over the management of the port of Riga. The Latvian government decided on December 11 that Riga port and Ventspils port management will be performed by a newly-founded company, whose members will be appointed by the state.
The former minister slams the government’s decision, saying that discussions on the form of port management were underway for years, whereas the final decision was made in the framework of one meeting; so, he cannot explain the need of founding a new company. Moreover, Anrijs Matīss believes that the state should not assume full management of the port, saying that changes in the board may have a negative impact on transit figures in Latvia.
Anrijs Matīss also speaks about reduction of transit from Russia, but does not link this fact to the disruption of the sphere. Asked by the journalist, whether Latvia can return Russian cargo turnover, Matīss responds:
“It is a very difficult question. I think that under current circumstances, rhetoric and actions, transit is expected to decline. Theoretically, everything is possible. However, I can only see further deterioration of the situation.”
The claims as if transit from Russia is declining due to Latvia’s aggressive rhetoric and therefore this economic sphere is dying are exaggerated and represent an interpretation by pro-Kremlin media outlets.
Latvian ports cargo turnover and Russia
The ports of Baltic countries, especially the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda, Latvian port of Riga and Russia’s St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga ports have been established as economic competitors. Russia more frequently uses its own ports for cargo turnover. In the first half of 2019, Russia reduced the transshipment of its foreign trade cargo in the ports of the Baltic States by 12.4%. The freights were redirected to Russian ports in the Baltic Sea. In the first half of 2019, cargo turnover in the port of Riga declined by 9.4% year-on-year; however, during the three quarters of the current year, cargo turnover increased by 10% year-on-year in Ventspils, Latvia’s second biggest port.
Despite the decline in Russian cargo turnover, Russia is still actively using the port of Riga, because Riga has a favorable location, as it offers the shortest transit route to Moscow, as well as a connection with the Trans-Siberian Railway. Moreover, cargo turnover in Latvian ports does not depend only on Russia. The ports are regularly used for cargo transportation by the Central Asian countries, Belarus, EU, especially Germany and Sweden. Preferential tariffs, special economic zone and free port status make Latvian ports attractive to investors.
The statistical data on cargo turnover at the port of Riga are stable in recent years and any claims about the death of “the entire economic sphere” are exaggerated.
Baltnews is a Russian-language news site, operating in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia under three separate domains, all of which are registered with a Dutch holding called Media Capital, which was established in 2013 with an authorized capital of one euro. The sole owner of the Dutch holding is Russian Media-Capital LLC, which, in turn, belongs to the newspaper Moskovskie Novosti, a part of Russia Today. In 2016, Baltnews producer Alexander Kornilov was detained in Estonia on suspicion of forging tax documents. It was assumed that he had appropriated the money allocated for pro-Russian propaganda. No charges were brought against him.
The journalistic investigation conducted by Buzzfeed and Re:baltica in 2018 confirmed that Baltnews was spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda in the Baltic countries; it actually belonged to Russia Today, whereas its editorial lines were dictated directly by Moscow. Following the investigation, Latvia blocked Baltnews as the source of Russian propaganda.
Prepared by Lika Chkhetiani
Winner of the Contest “The Most Media-Literate Young Person”