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Russia’s plan to dominate the platinum market

Production self-sufficiency in the agro-industrial sector, energy-mining dominance and a focus on Eurasia are the three key issues that have been driving the Kremlin's foreign agenda since 2014, the year that marked the beginning of a new cold war against Russia.

Published: November 22, 2019, 5:20 am

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    Russia has tried to circumvent the pressure of sanctions put in place by the European Union, the United States, Japan, and other Western countries, initially turning to China, but soon extending its range of interest in every emerging market of global importance, from India to the African continent.

    Against the background of renewed international leadership, Russia has accelerated plans to achieve self-sufficiency in strategic sectors, such as the food industry, and for the intensive but intelligent exploitation of the immense basins of natural resources contained between Siberia, the Far East and the Arctic.

    The main focus has been on the development of the extraction and distribution capacities of liquefied natural gas, but the long-term goal remains firmly the diversification of the economy, leading eventually to its de-hydrocarbonisation. In this context, a fundamental role is destined to be played by rare earths and precious metals, such as platinum.

    South Africa has been the leading producer and exporter of platinum since the 1970s: annually it satisfies almost 70 percent of the planet’s demand, boasting a highly specialized and long-standing industry and a subsoil studded with precious metals. Russia is firmly in second place and, having started in the 2010s, its extraction capacity has been significantly increased with the aim of catching up with its African competitor.

    Nevertheless, the two countries remain divided by a very deep gap: in 2014 South Africa exported 110 tons, while Russia only exported 25 tons. The melting of the glaciers, however, could revolutionize the situation in favor of Moscow, making the exploitation of the subsoil less expensive and delivering deposits that have up till now remained hidden.

    Recently, Russian Platinum and Nornickel reached an agreement for the development of two mining sites on the Tajmyr peninsula, in the far north of the country, which is estimated to have an annual capacity of 120 tons.

    The two companies are investing around $15 billion in the project and have formed a temporary association, renamed the Arctic Palladium, to be built within the first half of the 2020s. Not only are the platinum group metals present in the two sites, but there are also copper and nickel; and all three resources could guarantee at least 55 years of life, and profits from the Tajmyr mines.

    The extracted metal will then be loaded onto cargo ships that will reach the reference destinations by crossing the North Sea route. In this way, the Russian government will increase maritime traffic and the popularity of the route, significantly increasing its importance for the global geopolitical balance, by frontally attacking the hegemonic ambitions that the United States has recently revealed.

    Against the backdrop of investments aimed at increasing domestic production to critical levels, Russia is also increasing its presence in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other African countries with considerable deposits of these metals. The goal is to cut out small areas of influence in their mining industries, building a veritable hegemony in the platinum market based on the combination of high domestic production and foreign assets.

    The Arctic Palladium could guarantee Russia the primacy in the platinum market, consolidating the centrality of the country in writing the destiny of the planet. In fact, the demand for platinum has significantly increased in the last twenty years and its market value has exceeded that of gold: it is a trend that knows no limits and will be strengthened by current and future technological revolutions.

    The metals of the platinum group (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, platinum) are characterized by their rarity in nature and the chemical and catalytic properties that make them extremely useful in the mechanical and electronic industry.

    Palladium, for example, is essential in automobiles for the construction of catalytic converters and batteries, while platinum is used for the development of fiberglass, cathode ray tubes, hdmi cables, and telephony for the realization of screens with liquid crystals.

    The future of electronics, mechanics and motor vehicles rely on the control of the world platinum metal deposits and Russia has all the potential and possibilities to reach a position of unparalleled dominance.

    This is perhaps why, on Thursday, Swiss President Ueli Maurer emphasized the major opportunities available for expanding bilateral ties in discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Russian-Swiss ties have a long and rich history. Maurer noted that he saw this visit to Moscow as an opportunity to cultivate bilateral relations. He praised Russia’s role in Switzerland remaining an independent state, recalling the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna. Switzerland remembers this and acknowledges it gratitude, the Swiss president said.

    President Putin welcomed the Swiss delegation, saying: “I remember our meeting in Sochi in 2014, I am very glad to see you in Moscow.” He also pointed to the increase in trade, saying that last year it grew by about 20 percent.

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