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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials Resist New Russian Port in Baltics

ST. PETERSBURG - A plan by Russian millionaire Ilya Baskin to build a port near St. Petersburg in the Finnish Gulf, replacing the ports on the Baltic Russia lost in the collapse of the Soviet Union, has struck political opposition from city officials who question the safety and legality of the project.

The plan was announced in May to widespread acclaim but St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak is now asking the government to scrutinize the proposed facility's impact on local infrastructure and the environment, officials said Thursday at a press conference.

Baskin laid the foundation stone of a 17. 5 million-ton facility for oil, coal, and other goods in Ust-Luga, 224 kilometers southwest of St. Petersburg, in May. But the project is meeting resistance from local officials and environmentalists worried about detrimental effects on St. Petersburg's transportation networks and on the Finnish Gulf environment.

According to Alexei Liverovsky of the City Council Commission on Ecology, city authorities are also concerned about the plan's financial propriety.

"There are questions about the means by which a commercial entity could influence state structures to gain the exclusive right to develop a Finnish Gulf port. A lot remains unclear", Liverovsky said.

But Yury Volmer, general director of Ust-Luga, the firm put together by Baskin to realize the project, rejected suggestions of improprieties.

"Not one ruble's worth of bribes has been paid to get this off the ground", he said. He called the project "environmentally sound" and said the port would be held to ecological standards set at the neighboring Sosnovy Bor nuclear reactor.

Volmer also dismissed charges that the port would be privately held by Baskin, saying that 90 percent of stock would be controlled by the port's users.

Volmer said the consultancy Arthur Andersen would produce by August a preliminary plan to attract the $2 billion needed for construction. The port would offer competition to St. Petersburg's own 13. 5 million-ton facility.

Liverovsky said the facility "would not serve the interests of St. Petersburg", and that "local officials and public opinion were united against it". He said that Sobchak and Belyayev are appealing to President Yeltsin, parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Chief Prosecutor Valentin Stepankov to examine the project.