Behind Aleksandr Lukashenko’s grand port plan in Murmansk is a dodgy deal signed by a disgraced ex-convict

By - April 26, 2024 The Independent Barents Observer
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The agreement signed this week by Murmansk Governor Andrei Chibis and Belarusian businessman Andrei Bunakov was celebrated as landmark deal on Arctic infrastructure development.

A new seaport terminal for Belarusian goods is to be built on the western shore of the Kola Bay. According to Governor Chibis, the new terminal will have capacity to handle up to 25 million tons of goods per year.

Reportedly, the new seaport is to be able to handle containers, oil products and bulk. But the lion’s share of the goods will be fertilizers.

«From our side, we will continue to provide various support for the investors’ development of the project,» Chibis underlined in a statement on his Telegram channel.

 

Online chat between Putin and Chibis in April 2024. Photo: Kremlin.ru

 

Chibis has over the past two years been in close contact with the Belorusians. In September 2022 he met Belarus ruler Lukashenko in Minsk to discuss the plans and in June 2023 Belarusian Prime Minster Roman Golovchenko paid a visit to Murmansk.

 

President Lukashenko met with Murmansk Governor Andrei Chibis in 2020 to discuss seaport cooperation. Photo: president.gov.by

 

The negotiations have been blessed and supported from the highest political level.

This week’s agreement was signed only three days after Governor Chibis had a video meeting with Vladimir Putin.

«We proceed with the practical development of the project with the multimodal port with our Belarusian partners in line with your requests,»  Chibis reported to Putin.

It is the company Morskoy Terminal Vorota Arktiki (Sea Terminal Arctic Gate) that will be responsible for the project. It was established on 1st of April 2024 with a founding capital of 180 million rubles (€1,83 million). It has Murmansk region as its place of registration and is headed by General Director Andrei Bunakov.

According to Russian state-associated news agency Interfax, the company is owned 99 percent by the Belarusian company Logistics Energy. Another 1 percent is owned by a woman with the name Nelli Malyarova.

Andrei Bunakov was until recently in prison. He was earlier in charge of the biggest car tyre producing company in Belarus.

In February 2023, Belarus ruler Aleksandr Lukashenko lashed out against Bunakov, who allegedly had sold tires to Russian companies on deflated prices.

«Well, I call them swindlers. There is no other name for it,» Lukashenko underlined in a government meeting.

The dictator made sure that Bunakov was put in prison, and he remained behind bars until shortly before the announcement of the new deal with the Murmansk governor.

Owner of the one-percent stake in the new port development company –  Nelli Malyarova – is closely associated with Nikolai Vorobey, the Belarusian businessman suspected in large-scale smuggling of coal and oil products, independent newspaper Reform.News reports.

In 2020, Vorobey was included in a US sanctions list and in 2021 several of his major companies also joined the list. Vorobyev’s logistics company BelKazTrans was subsequently renamed Logistics Energy and registered on 25 year old Nelli Pankratova, Reform.News reports.

Pankratova is the maiden name of Nelli Malyarova.

Apparently, the young woman has little business experience and hardly any major wealth. Likewise, she hardly has an interest in seaport development in the north Russian region of Murmansk.

Nelli Malyarova/Pankratova might not only operate as straw woman for Nikolai Vorobey, but also for the Lukashenko family. According to Reform.News, it is no secret that Vorobyev and several more of Belarus’ leading business tycoons are not the actual owners of their business assets, but often operate on behalf of dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and his family.