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VR ends freight traffic from Russia, Estonian operator steps in

Traffic data suggests Estonia's Operail is replacing VR on an important freight route.

Operail is an Estonian state-owned railway company. Image: Antro Valo / Yle
Yle News

Finnish State Railways VR is ending all freight traffic from Russia at the end of this month, following a decision this past April. Estonian state-owned railway Operail is, however, replacing VR on a route traversing Finland from Vainikkala on the eastern border to Harjavalta on the west coast, according to publicly available rail traffic data.

Harjavalta is home to Nornickel Harjavalta, the Finnish plant of Russia's Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel producer.

Russian nickel has been reaching global markets via Finland.

Up until now, VR has been transporting Russian nickel to Nornickel's Finnish facility.

"This whole raw materials business is central to financing Putin's war machine," said Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, a Helsinki University professor specialised in Russia's energy economy.

EU imports of Russian nickel rose 22 percent between March and June, despite Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine.

Russian nickel imports to Finland have grown since last year, according to Finnish Customs. In September, imports were up nearly 60 percent compared to a year earlier. That said, some 160 million euros worth of nickel arrives in Finland every month.

Operail was tight-lipped when asked by Yle if it plans to transport Russian nickel in the future.

"Operail has reserved track capacity on the Kouvola-Harjavalta track, but freight agreements for the use of this capacity are yet to be signed," Operail spokesperson Madiken Oja told Yle from Tallinn.

In a message to Yle on Tuesday Operail said it was withdrawing from the Finnish market and selling off its Finnish activities.

Nickel is crucial to most electric vehicle batteries, making western states dependent on Russian exports of the metal.

Russia is the world's largest producer of nickel after Indonesia and the Philippines.

Norilsk Nickel accounts for 15-20 percent of the world's battery-grade nickel, Reuters reported in September.

Nornickel Harjavalta meanwhile told Yle that the company was enabling the green transition and the development of the battery industry in Europe and Finland. The firm added that it was not on any Russian sanctions lists, pays its taxes and abides by Finnish laws.

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