St. Petersburg, 19 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Construction will begin tomorrow on the first of three new commercial ports in the Leningrad region, although the fate of the most lucrative of these is still in doubt.
Today, a ground-breaking ceremony, in which Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak and Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh will participate, will help lay the foundation stone for the a $ 250 million commercial port on Batareinaya Bay in the Gulf of Finland.
During his visit to St Petersburg this month (June 6), President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree, ordering the construction of three commercial cargo transit ports in the Leningrad region.
In addition to the port at Bukhta-Batereinaya, that will serve mainly as an oil terminal, Yeltsin's decree also called for building a dry cargo port at Ust-Luga and another oil terminal in Primorsk.
The stated goal of the projects is to allow Russia to bypass ports in the Baltic states.
The Russian government has named Surgutneftegas its major contractor for the Bukhta-Batereinaya port, and authorized it to export $ 250 million worth of hydrocarbons to cover construction costs, according to Interfax news agency.
While the necessary documents to begin construction on the ports at Bukhta-Batareinaya and Ust-Luga have been signed, the third port - a $ 2 billion oil terminal in Primorsk that is of particular interest to Leningrad region Governor Vadim Gustov - appears to be held up.
Fyodor Shkrudnev, the presidential representative in Leningrad region, told the English-language newspaper The St Petersburg Times, that Yeltsin's decree does not give a direct order to construct the terminal at Primorsk, but only states Kremlin "support" for the project.
Governor Gustov as repeatedly traveled to Moscow to lobby for the lucrative Primorsk project, but has not yet been able to procure its full approval.
Moreover, Leningrad region officials are concerned that the proposed Primorsk terminal will be undermined in favor of a rival port and pipeline in Finland, The St Petersburg Times reported.
Yeltsin, during the March summit in Helsinki with U.S. President Bill Clinton, gave his support to a competing Finnish oil terminal and pipeline during a meeting with Finland's President Matti Ahtisaari.