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By John Helmer in Moscow

The treasure cave which the legendary Ali Baba found is not known to have had a back-door.

Otherwise, when it happened that Ali’s greedy brother Qassim forgot the ‘Open Sesame!’ for the entrance, he’d have been able to safely escape the arrival of the forty thieves. Instead, Qassim was discovered, and cut into four pieces.

Early this week, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin announced another of his fresh ideas for finding treasure on the Turkish coast of the Black Sea. But the problem is that he didn’t say enough to explain the front and back-door of what he proposes to be a brand-new logistics hub for cargoes entering the Black Sea, and also leaving it. Plans for cargo hubs usually say whence the cargo will be coming, and whither it will be going. Sechin’s cryptic comments have left those details out.

Sechin doesn’t make public speeches, or take press questions. Instead, he remarked to reporters accompanying him and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on Tuesday that Russia is considering the expansion of a Turkish Black Sea port as a new logistical hub for the region, instead of the new port of Sochi.

Sechin commands the flow of Russia’s natural resource exports, and he is the chairman of the board of the state oil producer and exporter, Rosneft. Last October, Sechin announced that the government is backing the delivery of up to 1.5 million barrels of crude per day to Samsun for onward piping to the Turkish tanker terminal at Ceyhan, on the Aegean. That plan – previously blocked by the Kremlin – has superseded earlier Russian commitments to supply the oil for the pipeline on the western side of the Black Sea, between Burgas, Bulgaria, and Alexandroupoli, Greece.

Sechin also supervises Russia’s shipping concession, appointing and replacing the chief executives of Sovcomflot, the state tanker fleet operator; and also the state shipyard concession, which has been consolidated into the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), whose board Sechin also chairs. One of Turkey’s strongest advocates in Moscow, Sechin’s latest announcement appears to mean that the new Sochi port now being constructed will be limited to passenger movement and cruise vessels after the Winter Olympics of 2014.

This port at Imereti Bay is being built on state money by companies associated with the aluminium oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. In 2006 Deripaska also bought the Sochi airport from the state. Since then he has been awarded state contracts to construct the Olympic village, at least one of the Olympic stadia, roads, and hotels.

In 2007, when it was first reported that Deripaska had won the concession for the Imereti facility to handle construction cargoes for the Olympics projects, it was also suggested that the port could be transformed into a cruise terminal and yacht marina after the Games were over. Deripaska then released a plan for a marina project of his own, called Olympic Village Marina.

This week, a rival marina plan for Sochi was unveiled by Sovcomflot, the shipping company under Sechin’s control. According to announcements from the Sochi Seaport Company, a subsidiary of Novoship, which is in turn owned by Sovcomflot, the Sochi Grand Marina project is to be launched, either in competition with Deripaska, or to replace him. Up to Rb2 billion (($65 million) is to be spent, say the Sovcomflot promoters, on a marina for up to 300 vessels, plus a 4-star hotel, and a convention centre. The promoters made clear that they need state money to pay for the breakwaters and piers required to shield the marina from destructive high winds and sea storms.

Last December 14, a storm caused severe damage to Deripaska’s construction works at Imereti, forcing delays in opening the cargo facility, and triggering a debate over fault and liability between federal officials, local government and environmental organizations, and Deripaska’s men. Sechin did not say why he has proposed the Turkish port alternative to Sochi. Nor have his office and the prime ministry’s press spokesmen responded to questions on the impact the proposed Samsun hub may have on cargo and container expansions already under way at Novorossiysk and Tuapse, north along the Black Sea coast from Sochi.

Alexei Bezborodov, Moscow’s leading independent maritime analyst, told Fairplay “these are strange ideas which someone is prompting high officials. Where will the cargoes transiting this proposed new Turkish hub be coming from and going to?” Other Russian reports imply that Sechin’s Turkish proposal reflects loss of confidence in Deripaska’s management of the Sochi projects. For the time being, Russian maritime experts do not believe that either Samsun, or Trabzon port to the east, have the infrastructure ready for the role Sechin envisages. When opened, the plan was unveiled, the Sochi cargo port was designed to process up to 6 million tonnes of cargo per annum for the Olympic construction sites.

The abrupt shift towards Samsun is also being reported as the outcome of Putin’s meeting with the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge. They met in Sochi on June 7, the day before Putin and Sechin went to Istanbul.

According to the prime ministry’s transcript of the meeting with Rogge, Putin did not mention the troubles at the port, and if Rogge had complaints, they weren’t recorded. “I also hope you will have time to see how our work is proceeding in Sochi,” Putin told Rogge. “Work is underway on 72 facilities, employing 19,000 people and involving 2,500 pieces of machinery. By the end of the year the number of workers will reach 35,000. Thirty-four facilities are to be completed and commissioned this year. We are using the Olympic Games as a powerful stimulus for developing the infrastructure of Russia’s southern region.”

Rogge replied that he liked the new Deripaska airport terminal.

“Sechin’s decision sounds absurd,” Fairplay was told by Yuri Dzaganiya, First Secretary of the Sochi city committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. “There are over 300 kilometres between Samsun and Sochi — how does he plan to organize the cargo traffic? There is no railway from Turkey to Sochi, so is Russia going ask Georgia to help out? I don’t actually know when Sechin said this, but if he did, this is sorrowful for our government, because such unprofessional ideas should not be declared at the high level. Putin has visited Turkey lately, but he didn’t mention such a project. If the government really plans this, then it should be Putin to declare similar ideas. Sechin could be taking on more responsibility than he can handle.”

“Another point is that with such a declaration, Sechin could mean to say the new Sochi port turned out to be a failure. The fact that it was destroyed by a storm in December last implies that Deripaska’s companies economized on the hydrologic feasibility study, and the engineering calculations before actually beginning to build the port. If so, that can only be interpreted as criminal negligence. The news is that the under-built port will be turned into a yacht marina, which characterizes the oligarch approach. Certainly, a marina will be very suitable for Deripaska.”

“Yes, such a decision [for Samsun] will also harm the existing Russian ports. It is a strategic decision — to use a Turkish port. But when you look at the situation in Sochi on the whole, you can see that the idea is to take enormous sums of budget money and spend them as quickly as possible. That is not only useless, but harmful for the city. 96 billion roubles [$3.1 billion] have already been spent, and who among the ordinary citizens has really profited? Nobody.”

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