By Philip Lebedev and Gleb Stolyarov
(Reuters) – At least $14.3 million worth of coal produced in regions of Russia-occupied Ukraine has been exported to NATO member Turkey this year, according to Russian customs information reviewed by Reuters.
The information shows that between February and July 2023, approximately 160,400 tonnes of coal arrived in Turkey from the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Three producers listed in customs informationconfirmed to Reuters that they shipped coal from both fields to Turkey during that period.
Unlike the United States and the European Union, Turkey has not restricted trade with Russia or areas of Ukraine controlled by Moscow. Washington has cautioned companies not to assist Russia in its conflict against Ukraine or evade sanctions.
Since Moscow initiated its invasion in February 2022, Turkey – a NATO member that supports Kiev’s efforts to resist Russia – has repeatedly mentioned that it acknowledges Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Ankara played a crucial role in facilitating a now-expired agreement between the warring countries, which had permitted Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.
Turkey’s trade ministry and customs directorate did not respond to requests for comment on the shipment.
Information from a commercial trade information provider reviewed by Reuters showed that coal from at least 10 producers went to Turkey between February and July. The information indicates that Turkey was the largest export destination of coal from its occupied territories, accounting for 95% of shipments during this period.
Turkey, a major coal consumer and importer, is defying the global trend by increasing the proportion of coal used in power generation. Official data shows that it generated 31.5 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity from imported coal in the first half of this year, a 25% increase compared to the same period in 2022.
According to the Interfax news agency’s Spark database of Russian companies, the coal sellers are registered in Russia and its affiliated Ukrainian territories.
Customs information shows that the buyers were companies registered in Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, and offshore jurisdictions, including Belize and the British Virgin Islands. No Turkish companies were listed.
Reuters has not been able to find contacts for the buyers nor establish who the final beneficiaries were.
In November, Vitaly Khotsenko, then head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), stated that the region was already exporting coal to Turkey, from where it went to markets in the Middle East and Africa.
Reuters could not find any information in customs information about deliveries of coal produced in the DNR to Turkey or other countries in 2022.
Russian-established authorities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as the Ukrainian government, did not comment on coal exports.
Russia’s Energy Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Russia’s Federal Customs Service said in response to Reuters questions that it had suspended the publication of foreign trade information from February 2022.
While commercial trade information does not provide a complete picture of how coal was exported, it did show that some went through the southern Russian port city of Rostov and some through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, both of which are near Donetsk. And there is a rail connection to Luhansk. Reuters was unable to determine whether some or all of it was re-exported from Turkey.
The US sanctions, imposed on February 21, 2022, three days before Russia invaded Ukraine, ban US imports or exports from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (LNR). Two days later, the European Union announced measures including an import ban on goods from both regions.
There are no similar restrictions in Türkiye. The United States has imposed sanctions on companies, including Turkey, that it alleges are supporting Moscow in its war against Ukraine.
Asked about the shipments to Turkey, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said, “We are aware of reports of such trade, but we cannot comment on your specific findings.”
“We condemn any attempts by Russia to profit from the theft of Ukraine’s natural resources. Ukraine’s natural resources belong to the Ukrainian people.”
The European Commission declined to comment. In April, Reuters reported that a Chinese company bought copper from a plant in a Russian-annexed region of Ukraine.
Russia announced plans to capture the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine in September 2022, although it only controls some territory amid ongoing fighting.
Most countries in the UN General Assembly, including Ukraine, its Western allies, and Turkey, condemned the announced annexation.
Reuters tried to contact 10 miners and related companies that export coal from the two annexed regions for comment. It was able to make contact with four; The rest did not respond.
Vostokugol, based in Luhansk and owned by Russian-established LNR authorities, is one of the largest coal mining companies in the annexed territories and mined 100,000 tons of coal in Turkey in February–July, according to customs information. It shows.
Adzmal Zalmai, a senior executive at Florence LLC, a trading company registered in Moscow and the exclusive seller for Vostokugol, hung up the phone when Reuters asked him about the shipment to Turkey. Vostokugol did not respond to a request for comment.
Anton Nadeyev, director of private mining company Nedra-06, which operates in Antratsit, a town near the city of Luhansk controlled by a pro-Russian proxy since 2014, confirmed the shipment to Turkey.
Nadeyev declined to provide further details of the transaction or information about the buyers.
“This is already our commercial secret. I’m not ready to tell it,” Nadeyev said.
Customs information shows that Nedra-06 shipped two consignments of coal totaling 1,600 tonnes to Turkey in May and June. Customs information shows that the buyers were Belize-based Brig Management Ltd. and Hong Kong’s Green Rabbit Ltd.
Customs records show that both companies were the largest buyers of coal from Ukraine’s occupied territory during the period under review.
According to customs information, from February to July, Brig Management Ltd. shipped 49,000 tons of coal mined in Ukraine’s occupied territories to Turkey worth $4.8 million.
In the same period, Green Rabbit Limited shipped 11,800 tons of coal worth $1.1 million.
Reuters was unable to find contact information for Brig Management Ltd. A request to the Registry of Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs was rejected because “the information can only be requested by licensed registered agents or company owners.”
Reuters visited the address listed in the Hong Kong registry for Green Rabbit Ltd – a commercial building that is home to several businesses – but was unable to see any mention of the company on the premises.
Denis Karaschuk, a businessman based in the mining town of Yasinuvata, a coal producer in Russian-controlled Donetsk, also confirmed that some of his company’s production was shipped to Turkey.
He said that he himself has not sent coal there. The information shows that coal purchased at Russian ports by Brig Management Ltd and Green Rabbit Ltd was transported to Turkey.
“Coal is bought in the port of Novorossiysk, which is a major transportation hub for oil and other commodities,” Karaschuk said, referring to the Russian Black Sea port.
“And what happens next is, let’s say, already their (buyers’) business.”
(Reporting by Philip Lebedev and Gleb Stolyarov in Tbilisi; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Ese Toxbay in Ankara, Tom Balmforth in Kiev, Julia Payne in Brussels and Jose Sanchez in Belize; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Daniel Flynn)