Russian rail freight not collapsing, claims PM

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Reports that the amount of rail freight being sent across Latvia to and from Russia have dramatically reduced in volume are not accurate, Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis insisted May 30. 

Speaking on LTV's  "Morning panorama" news show, Kučinskis said that following a report by Reuters last week saying there had been a steep decline in rail freight, he had approached the Ministry of Transport for clarification last week and received a reply on May 29.

"That does not represent the true picture. Cargo freight from Russia until May 25 has grown by 15.9% against last year's figure," he said, adding that any reduction in volumes of coal being shipped might be explained by the end of the winter season.

"At the moment, no drops in cargo volumes are predicted," Kucinskis said - though it was notable that he talked primarily about future trends.

"That doesn't mean Russia has changed its strategy to ship more of its cargo through its own ports... but at the moment Latvia's ports are not seeing a decline," he insisted.

Reports of a steep drop in cargoes had also "surprised the Russian side" Kucinskis said, but he entertained the possibility that the Reuters story had been "some sort of warning".

"In fact there has been no kind of fall," he stated clearly.

Last week the Reuters news agency reported that Russian state railways had slashed the amount of cargo being sent to Riga and Ventspils ports, possibly in response to Latvia's opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. 

Transport Minister Uldis Augulis has also denied there have been any sharp falls in cargo volume, saying he is unaware of any decision by the Russian side to that effect. As recently as May 26 - three days after the Reuters story appeared - he was meeting with Igor Levitin, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a statement Augulis said that cooperation between Latvia and Russia on transport is "always based on mutual interest" pointing to the construction of a Russian chocolate factory in Ventspils as a particular success story.


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