Russia is one of the world's food export powers, especially in the grain category. Last year, Russian export volumes increased, and it is likely that the war loot in the occupied southern Ukraine has had its role in it. During his visit to Latvia, the Ukrainian Minister of Justice confirmed that Russia had taken the stolen agricultural machinery to its territory. Harvest has also been stolen and exported, but to what extent, can't be said.
"It is particularly difficult to track stolen yields when mixed with those of Russian origin. We have a bit of information, but we are far from certain numbers. We usually find out about the stolen property when we vacate the occupied territories. Before that, it's very difficult to do that," Denys Maliuska said.
No Latvian authorities have an answer to the question of whether the harvest of Ukrainian-occupied territories may have entered Latvia from Russia.
However, such a possibility cannot be excluded, says the Ministry of Agriculture. The State Security Service told LTV that the increase in imports of grain and peas from Russia had also drawn the service's attention, but the service declined further comment.
Data from the Central Statistical Bureau show that Russian food imports into Latvia grew rapidly last year. For example, in the plant food category, from €51 million in 2021 to €142 million. Imports of food industry products have also doubled from €55 million in 2021 to €115 million in 2022.
Russian maize imports continue to grow particularly rapidly – 61 thousand tons of maize were imported into Latvia from Russia in 2021, nearly 140 thousand tons last year, but 213 thousand tons in seven months this year.
Similarly, after the invasion, Latvia has rapidly started importing various sunflower products from Russia. Oil cake and other solid residues were imported eight times more last year - 22 thousand tons in 2021, while 186 thousand tons were imported in the first year of the war. The volume is likely to be even higher this year.
Just as suddenly Latvia has become a significant importer of Russian dried peas – last year the volume in terms of price increased four times, in terms of weight – two and a half times. 53 thousand tons of peas were imported from Russia in 2021, and 132 thousand tons last year.
Imports of the three products alone gave the Russian economy €135 million last year, while the sum exceeded 105 million in the first seven months of this year.
Ministry of Agriculture criticizes imports from Russia.
"The Ministry's dismissive position for such practices is absolutely self-evident and sufficiently clear. We consider it unacceptable to take any action that could directly or indirectly help finance Russia's criminal war in Ukraine," said Kaspars Cirsis, deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture while emphasizing that food imports from Russia are not illegal.
There are no sanctions on food so as not to create barriers to getting it to poor countries.
Cirsis noted that much of the food imported from Russia does not remain in Latvia and is exported further.
"Imports of peas exceed the volume of exports, while maize is not produced here to meet local demand. Likewise with these sunflower cakes - they are not produced locally but are widely used in fodder," said Cirsis.
Imports from Russia are sharply criticized by Indulis Jansons, chairman of the board of the agricultural cooperative VAKS: "Because in a direct context, corn does not bother us because it is practically not grown for grain in Latvia, but it can replace our wheat and other cereal crops, and it is likely that this will happen."
Jansons said that Russia currently competes Latvian farmers because in Russia the harvest can be grown with much cheaper fertilizers, as well as plant protection requirements there are lower:
"Hiding behind the same so-called food affordability and sufficiency in the world are also things that, of course, also get in the way of us as a local producer, because that production replaces the output we produce, and of course, it's produced in other costs, other categories. So this situation is serious and is likely to get more serious."
LOSP No information on the prevalence of Russian fodder
The head of the livestock farm Association, now Minister of Climate and Energy Kaspars Melnis of the Greens and Farmers Union, did not agree on an interview but called for a comment to the Agriculture Organization Cooperation Council.
Its manager Guntis Gūtmanis said he had not heard of such cases: "I do not know of any case I have heard of a farmer buying his feed directly from a foreign producer. These are all larger companies that supply raw materials and feed. These are companies directly engaged in supply and marketing. […] What I would like to hope is that all the produce they sell to our farmers, that it is of legal origin and obtained in a legal manner, and goes to Latvia in a legal way."
Gūtmanis said he would personally support the complete abandonment of imports of Russian products, but stressed that Latvia cannot make such a decision alone.
Who exactly brings Russian agricultural products into Latvia, the Central Statistical Bureau does not disclose. However, the bureau may say the nature of the occupation and the number of enterprises. Four Latvian companies imported maize from Russia this year, five imported peas, and six oilcakes.
"Their economic activity is usually the wholesale of grains, seeds or fodder, ancillary transport activities, or the third is the manufacture of chemicals and chemical products. Moreover, I would like to emphasize in addition that not only Latvian enterprises appear in foreign trade statistics, but the total statistics are also made up of foreign enterprises," Intars Abražuns, Director of the Department of Macroeconomic Statistics of the Central Statistical Bureau, described the situation.
While the Ministry of Agriculture condemns trade with Russia, there are no plans to restrict it in any way.
Trading with Russia or not is a voluntary choice: “As with any other restrictive measures, however, we cannot look at Latvia outside the common market of the European Union. Consequently, that approach here should go with the whole common position of the European Union on trade,“ said Ministry spokesman Kaspars Cirsis.