Financial Times reveals how Russia is secretly selling grain stolen from Ukraine

The journalists got acquainted with the documents and showed on one of the examples how Russia exports grain stolen in the occupied part of Ukraine.

Russia illegally sells stolen Ukrainian grain / photo REUTERS
Russia illegally sells stolen Ukrainian grain / photo REUTERS

Russia illegally sells grain stolen in the occupied territory of Ukraine, forging documents and manipulating the movement of ships.

Financial Times journalists conducted an investigation and showed one of the shady schemes of how the Russian Federation trades in grain stolen in the occupied territories of the Zaporozhye region.

Documents reviewed by the FT, which trace the path of a shipment of 2,675 tons of wheat, were confirmed by satellite imagery, transponder data, shipping, sightings of ships in northern Turkey and interviews with smugglers and traders.

This small batch gives a glimpse of how the illegal trade works and how various Russian institutions work together to provide cover for private companies and ships.

As it turned out, on May 15, the invaders created the State Grain Operator company to trade in stolen grain, headed by Nikita Busel, the founder of two boutique hotels and a chain of coffee houses in central Russia.

However, this company has neither Ukrainian nor Russian registration. Her task is to steal grain from local farmers and resell it for export. The proceeds from the sale were used to support the Russian occupiers.

Owners and managers of Ukrainian agribusinesses evacuated from the occupied region told the FT that this “State Grain Operator” resells grain stolen from their warehouses or harvested from fields they previously owned.

“They concocted the government, and then concocted this company. Claiming that he would be engaged in the purchase of grain. They seized our warehouses. And now they are doing their so-called commercial activities there,” says the manager of one of the enterprises, which was located before the invasion. in Berdyansk. He adds that the occupiers do not leave local farmers a choice – either sell them grain at a reduced price, or it will simply be taken away from them.

The commercial of this company of invaders says that there are buyers of stolen grain in Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran. The “state grain operator” seems to be still in operation: every week it publishes lists of prices per ton, at which it forces local farmers to sell agricultural products.

FT was unable to contact this company through any of the available communication channels.

On August 13, the occupation authorities signed documents to allow the export of 2,675 tons of wheat through Berdyansk. To reassure potential buyers that the grain is safe, hygienic and handled properly, the City has prepared a plethora of provenance documents. FT journalists also got acquainted with all these documents.

They explicitly state that the seller of the grain is the State Grain Operator. Also, according to the documents, the cargo arrived from the occupied Zaporozhye region of Ukraine

To transport the stolen grain, the invaders used the Pawell ship, which sails under the Syrian flag. The Pawell itself is probably owned by the fictitious British company Pawell Shipping Co LLP LLPCo. However, nothing is known about such a company at the registration address.

On another document, also signed on August 13, the captain of the ship, Viktor Smolsky, printed a short note in English: “I, the captain of the m/v POWELL, the flag is SYRIA, declare that I have stopped loading … The ship is loaded to full capacity.”

Few ships will be loaded in an occupied port as this could lead to sanctions. However, Syrian-flagged ships such as the Pawell often call at occupied Ukrainian ports, often delivering cargo directly to Syria.

Even before Pawell arrived in occupied Ukraine, he had covered his tracks. According to the ship’s AIS transponder (a device that transmits its location to other ships), on July 31 the ship arrived in the Kerch Strait and anchored. However, on the evening of August 10, he turned off the transponder and disappeared from the radar.

Pawell reappeared in the Kerch Strait on August 15 – two days after the ship was filled with grain in Berdyansk, according to the original documents.

However, now a second package of documents has been prepared, which states that the grain was loaded not in occupied Berdyansk, but in the port of Kavkaz in the Kerch Strait (Krasnodar Territory of the Russian Federation). The place of origin of the grain is not the occupied Zaporozhye region, but the Russian Togliatti. The grain seller was also changed – it became the Geos company of the Russian businessman Igor Pozhidaev.

Pozhidayev himself denies that the grain is related to the occupied part of Ukraine and claims that he has a package of documents confirming this. However, he refused to provide journalists with any of them to confirm his words.

With the second package of documents, the vessel headed for Turkey and arrived on September 3 at the port of Samsun. They tried to sell the grain stolen from Ukraine to the Azerbaijani businessman Akbar Asgarov, but in the end he refused. “We stay away from unreliable agreements,” he said.

After that, the ship turned off the transponder again, and a few weeks later appeared on the radar again in the eastern part of the Black Sea, but without cargo.

The final destination was the Turkish port of Hopa near the border with Georgia. Pozhidaev refused to answer who became the buyer of the grain, except that it was sold in Turkey. He also stressed that Turkish buyers were satisfied with the provided documents.

Russian theft of Ukrainian grain

After the occupation of Ukrainian territories, Russia began to steal Ukrainian property, including grain. As of June 7, it was reported that Russia had stolen up to 500,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat worth $100 million. Most of this cargo was delivered to the ports of the occupied Crimea, and then transported by ships, including those under Western sanctions.

Vessel tracking websites and experts noted that the Russian Federation hides information about involved vessels. They often disable their transponders to hide their port of origin. Sometimes they moored in Turkey or Syria.

In August, Ukraine’s ambassador to Lebanon, Igor Ostash, said that 87 ships were transporting stolen Ukrainian grain abroad . “It could be through Turkey, it could be directly to Syria, it could be to other countries in the Middle East,” he said.

In October, it became known that by the end of 2022, Russia could take out only 1.8 million tons of grain from the occupied territories of Ukraine. If Russia’s plans are implemented, the Russian Federation may receive about $600 million from illegal grain exports.

(C)UNIAN 2022

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