Latvian companies doing business with Russia named and shamed

The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, Re:Baltica, has published a new investigation which reveals the names of companies still doing business with aggressor state Russia more than two years after its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

In a report titled Rubles’ attraction. How Latvian exporters cannot get rid of Russian ties, Re:Baltica says on an average working day around 300 lorries continue to cross Latvia's eastern border – and that's before taking into account goods moved by rail or sea.

"Since Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, Latvia’s exports in this [eastwards] direction have dropped by just EUR 70.7 million a year. This is richly compensated by the increase of exports to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which are commonly used for circumventing sanctions," the report says.

"In order to pressure businesses to stop their cooperation with Russia, the Ministry of Economics has resumed publishing the list of exporters which it updates quarterly. The list, however, reflects the situation in just one month – December 2023. There is no clue who is big, who is small, who has been exporting throughout the whole time of the war, and who has been put on the list just due to one fulfilled order.

"Using access to Russian customs data, Re:Baltica selected the 20 largest exporters for the first two years of the war. This is the first time such data is published as Latvian law bans it regarding individual enterprises.

"We also asked the companies to explain their business choices. Nobody agreed to a face-to-face interview. 9 out of the 20 chose to respond in writing," says Re:Baltica.

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Wellman Logistics is named as Latvia’s largest exporter to Russia, having delivered goods worth USD 146 million in two years. Customs declarations show that the company provides Russia with French, Spanish and Chilean wines, American whiskey – and also wireless headphones, fridges and dishwashers.

It is owned by Estonia's Wellman Group. The group’s CEO Ivo Tahk said in a written response to Re:Baltica that the company is one of the leading logistics companies in Latvia. Its turnover is about EUR 4 million, and it has been at this level over the past two years. USD 146 million is worth of the goods delivered to Russia. “None of the goods we export belongs to us. None of the goods we export is a subject of sanctions,” he said. “Our job is to offer services to EU-registered companies with whom we have been cooperating of many years. We will not take any new companies or companies registered in Russia as our clients now or in the future.”

He said that the company strictly condemns Russia’s war in Ukraine and is working to strengthen Latvia’s economy, Latvia’s defense sector and Ukraine’s abilities to defend itself. Tahk did not specify how exactly it is being done. He left the questions about moral reasons for providing pleasant life for Russian residents during the war unanswered.

Two Latvian pharma companies make up the rest of the top three exports to Russia: Olainfarm and Kalceks (a subsidiary of the better-known Grindeks. The latter’s exports to Russia, according to the customs declarations, dropped almost three times over to (USD 24.1 million), while, Olainfarm is doing much better than at the start of the war. In 2023, the company exported goods worth USD 52.6 million to Russia, which is by USD 5 million more than a year ago.

It should be stressed that the companies named are not accused of breaking any EU sanctions – but they do have questions to ask regarding their moral positions when doing business in a warmongering state. You can read their justifications in the full Re:Baltica investigation here.

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