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Continued trade of Russian nickel and fertilizers to Finland despite conflict in Ukraine

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, railway transports of Russian nickel and fertilizers to Finland persist into their third year, even after the Finnish government closed all checkpoints on the Russian border.

Despite the war’s duration, the movement of these materials continues due to the absence of explicit prohibitions. While Finland adheres to EU sanctions on Russia, Russian nickel and fertilizers are not currently subject to these sanctions.

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Both commodities are deemed critical raw materials, essential for global food security and industrial applications, particularly in the context of the green transition. Nickel finds use in various products, including stainless steel, batteries, and electronics.

Nickel from Russia is routed to the Nornickel Harjavalta plant on Finland’s west coast, the sole large-scale nickel smelter in the EU, owned by the Russian mining conglomerate Nornickel, led by Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s wealthiest individual. Potanin, often linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, faces sanctions from the US, UK, and Canada but not from the EU.

Concurrently, fertilizers are transported from Russia to the Port of Kotka, with loading managed by the Russian-owned port operator Fertilog.

Transportation of these materials is facilitated by North Rail, a subsidiary of Nurminen Logistics, a Finnish company with investors having ties to Russia. However, pension firm Ilmarinen, which holds a significant stake in Nurminen Logistics, emphasizes its stance against facilitating Russian trade that circumvents sanctions.

In 2022, concerns were raised about the nickel trade’s role in financing Russia’s military activities. Helsinki University Russia expert Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen highlighted the raw materials business as a critical source of funding for Putin’s government.

Despite ongoing political strikes disrupting railway freight traffic, the transport of fertilizers and nickel remains unaffected. Nurminen Logistics attributes this to Finnish authorities’ directives under the ‘protection principle,’ aimed at safeguarding life, health, or property during labor disputes.

However, state agencies and government ministries overseeing rail permits deny implementing special provisions during the strikes.

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