Russia to shut down rail links over anti-graft arrest

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Fears that Russian Railways' (RR) oligarchic boss Vladimir Yakunin would react badly to the arrest by Latvian anti-graft officers of his friend and associate Ugis Magonis - disgraced former head of Latvian Railways (LDz) - seemed to prove accurate Thursday with the sudden announcement by the Russian side of repair works that look set to seriously disrupt cargo flows through Latvia. 

The unscheduled repair works were revealed at a press conference held by Latvian Railways management in an effort to show they were in control of the situation - but which ended up having precisely the opposite effect.

Russia has officially informed Latvijas Dzelzcels (Latvian Railway) that the railroads leading to Latvia are in poor condition and will be repaired over the next couple of months and that cargo shipping on this line will be reduced to the minimum during this period, the Latvian railway company's acting head Aivars Straksas told journalists Thursday.

He indicated that Russia will continue to ship cargos by rail to Latvia for the next ten days and that everyone can "draw their own conclusions" from the Russian authorities' announcement.

That conclusion is likely to be that Yakunin - a long-time ally of President Vladimir Putin - is peeved that Latvia's KNAB anti-graft officers arrested his friend Magonis.

As a result, he looks like he wants to warn Latvia not to try and clean up corruption in its transport systems.

Russia has a long track record of discovering sudden and previously unnoticed faults in its infrastructure as a means of punishing its neighbours.

In 2006 the Druzhba oil pipeline to Lithuania was shut down for "temporary" repairs, never to reopen. Ukraine has also suffered at the whim of Russia's elite with gas supplies cut when the Kyiv government wasn't being pliant enough. 

The Baltic states long experience of seeing huge tailbacks build up at border crossings with Russia when relations are bad, as Russian border guards suddenly discover mechanical or paperwork faults by the score.

The faults usually disappear as mysteriously as they appear but in most cases, including the case of the rail repairs, they leave a clear message: "Don't even think about doing business in a transparent or genuinely competitive manner."

As previously reported by LSM, Magonis - who helped lobby the EU to have Yakunin removed from a travel blacklist - is being held as part of an investigation into a suspected bribe believed to be worth nearly half a million euros.

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