A court in the southern Russian city of Novorossiysk has closed a Black Sea oil terminal in the same location for 30 days. Until now, oil from Kazakhstan has flowed west via the terminal. Experts see the verdict as politically motivated.

A Russian court has suspended the operation of an oil terminal in the port of the southern Russian city of Novorossiysk for 30 days. This was preceded by a court case in which the operators of the terminals, the Kazakh Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), were accused of having provided incomplete documentation in the emergency plans for the elimination of possible oil spills. The regional transport supervisory authority in Novorossiysk had originally given CPC until November 30 to remedy these deficiencies, but surprisingly demanded an immediate closure of the terminal in court on Tuesday, which the court agreed.

Kazakhstan exports around 80 percent of its oil production destined for other countries via the port city of Novorossiysk. The state itself has no access to the world’s oceans and is therefore dependent on Russia’s help. The CPC, which includes Kazakh companies as well as the Russian pipeline operator Transneft, started building a 1,510-kilometer pipeline from the oil fields around the city of Tengiz in western Kazakhstan to Novorossiysk in 2001. Around 67 million tons of oil are exported each year. Trading is now at a standstill until the beginning of August.

Germany imported around 81.4 million tons of crude oil last year. Kazakhstan was the third largest trading partner after Russia (27.7 million tons) and the USA (10.2 million tons). We obtained 8 million tons of crude oil via Novorossiysk, more than from Norway or Great Britain. With the start of the Ukraine war, Kazakhstan’s importance has even increased, because an EU trade embargo on Russian oil will come into effect next year. With a few exceptions, black gold should then no longer flow from Russia to the EU. However, since the demand for oil in this country is not likely to fall at the same rate, alternative trading partners – such as Kazakhstan – are becoming more important.

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Political experts rate the closure of the terminal in Novorossiysk less as an inevitable official measure than as politically influenced. After all, the regional transport authority originally gave the CPC much longer to submit the missing documentation. Shortening this period abruptly now may be legally sound, but it has an aftertaste.

That stems from the fact that Russia and Kazakhstan have been in a verbal clinch for months because of the Ukraine war. At the economic forum in St. Petersburg in mid-June, Kazakh President Shomart Tokayev – who, like Vladimir Putin, is also considered a hard-line autocrat – made it clear that Kazakhstan would not accept the independence of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that Moscow is striving for. Days later, reports surfaced that Russia would restrict oil shipments through Novorossiysk. Conversely, there were also reports that Kazakhstan would block the transit of coal-loaded railway wagons through the country to Russia. Both states have denied such reports, but the climate between Moscow and the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan is tense.

The example also shows how quickly Russia, if it wants to, can stop supplying oil and gas to other countries. This is a fear that the federal government, the Federal Network Agency and the EU have when the scheduled maintenance of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline starts next Monday. This is supposed to take ten days, but it shouldn’t be a problem for the operator Gazprom to find a technical problem that would mean that the pipeline would have to be shut down for a longer period of time – such as the lack of documentation in the case of the oil terminal in Novorossiysk.

Russia also has a reputation for using such pretexts to throttle or cut off oil and gas supplies to other countries. Less gas has been flowing through Nord Stream 1 since the beginning of June because Gazprom allegedly lacks a spare part for a gas turbine, which it cannot order due to Western sanctions. Poland and Bulgaria had their gas cut off in April because they refused to pay bills in rubles – even though the supply contracts do not require it.

Sometimes the country is also more direct: Ukraine and Georgia were refused gas supplies in 2006 and 2007 because both countries refused to pay higher prices for Russian gas and wanted to stick to the existing contracts. At that time, too, deliveries to Europe were delayed by up to a third. At the end of 2021, Russia threatened Moldova with a delivery stop in the cold winter. Both countries argued about Moldova’s alleged debts to Russia, which the small neighbor denies.

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