This Siemens turbine story just keeps growing more legs than a millipede on steroids. If you want the backstory, then you have to hunker down and read my last series of posts, because I don’t have time to repeat all that. But the (Latest + Greatest) twist in this breaking story happened yesterday when Siemens declared they will take Russia to court to get their turbines back. This piece from Lenta gives the gist of it. Basically, the two sides in this conflict line up as follows, just like in WWII:
In one corner of the battlefield we have Siemens AG, an Aktiengesellschaft, I think that means a private stock company. Siemens was founded in 1847 in Berlin, in the Kingdom of Prussia, by two men named Werner von Siemens and his partner, Johann Georg Halske.
Initially these technology pioneers invented and produced stuff for the telegraph, then they diversified into airplanes, radios, television sets, jet engines, hydropower stations… It is not even possible to list all the products that this company made, it would actually be easier to list the things they didn’t make. As far as I know, they do not manufacture “Hello Kitty” puppets. One has to admire the sheer productivity of such a company and all that they contributed to human technology. But then things took a very dark turn…
During World War II, Siemens became a vital link in the Nazi war machine. They used people stuck in extermination camps (mostly Jews, I would reckon) as their slave labor. These slaves had to build stuff for the Nazis without any pay except just for the chance to live one more day. In return for the Nazi government’s generous volunteering of these slaves, Siemens “paid it forward” by supplying the extermination camps with vital electrical parts needed to keep exterminating Jews and other undesirables.
In the other corner we have Techno-Prom-Export, which is a filial (Russians say “daughter company”) of state-owned Rostech Corporation. Siemens representative Wolfram Trost specified that the lawsuit, which he filed yesterday in Moscow, is directed against the senior management of Techno-Prom-Export. Further: according to Trost, his company also seeks a legal injunction against further turbine-type deliveries to Crimea; and in fact a return of the Siemens turbines to what was supposed to be their original destination: Taman.
A quick look at the map shows that the Taman Peninsula, which is indisputable Russian territory, not even the Ukrainians claim it, reaches out from the Russian mainland, like a little lobster claw. Almost as if seeking to shake claws with its mirror image in Kerch, Crimea, across a brief stretch of water.
Taman, by all accounts a desolate place where nobody wants to live, is very famous in Russian literature. One of Russia’s greatest writers, Mikhail Lermontov, wrote a story called “Taman”, as one of the sections of his larger masterpiece, “A Hero Of Our Time“. The Byronic anti-hero, Pechorin, an arrogant Russian cavalry officer, finds himself on the Taman Peninsula, the most god-forsaken patch of the Russian Empire. The testy hero encounters a family of Caucasian smugglers, he ends up ticking them off, and is bested by a blind boy and a sort of super-girl character who can wrestle, scramble over roofs and swim great swaths of ocean. In the ensuing culture clash, the score ends in Russia-0, smugglers-1.
And speaking of smuggling, that is precisely what Siemens accuses Russia of: Namely, smuggling the turbines, which were “supposedly” meant to be employed on Taman, and instead somehow found their way across the Strait to Crimea. Either the turbines swam there themselves, or, more likely, Lermontov’s blind boy and super-girl moved them in their boat. A little boat which, as Pechorin found to his astonishment, was capable of holding product many times its own weight.
Siemens claims that Techno-Prom-Export gave written guarantees that the machines would not be moved from the one peninsula to the other. Siemens is okay with using slave labor, but they would never in a million years do anything to bypass European Union sanctions against Russia. Said sanctions were laid unto Russia in 2014 to punish them and the people of Crimea for turning their noses up at the Ukrainians; said sanctions forbid any kind of energy technology to reach the recalcitrant people of the Crimean peninsula. Why, if Siemens was to be found guilty of breaking the sanctions embargo, then they could be fined and even punished by their EU Overlords!
So, Sue Me, Siemens!
Meanwhile, I have this other piece written by our old friend Olga Samofalova, with whom we began this saga on the turbines, several days ago. Olga’s patriotic plaint was that Russia cannot (currently) build turbines powerful enough (with enough Megawatts) to power a city; and that’s why the Russians were forced to turn to a German company to get what they needed.
According to Olga, the current crisis dates back to 2015, when Techno-Prom-Export purchased 4 gas turbines, of the model Siemens SGT-2000E, with the purpose of building an electro-power station in Taman. Now, the twist is that the turbines are indeed assembled on Russian soil, in a factory in Saint Petersburg. A sort of joint German-Russian type factory. Hence, Dmitry Peskov was not lying when he said the turbines were domestically produced. Technically he was telling the truth. Moreover, according to Denis Manturov, the Head of the Trade Ministry of the Russian Federation, the turbines in question are endowed with a Russian Certificate. Just as a certificate from the Wizard of Oz can make a scarecrow a PhD, so too does a Russian Certificate issued by Manturov, make a German turbine Russian. Quoting Olga: “A Russian certificate is documentary proof that the Crimean turbines are of Russia, not German, origin. This (certificate) should protect Siemens from accusations of breaking the sanctions. How can the sanctions be considered broken, since the turbines were put together in a Russian factory, albeit with German parts?”
See, I wasn’t kidding yesterday when I said that Russia had slapped their store label on the German product. And all these minute details are bound to come into play in the ensuing courtroom drama. Everybody stock up on popcorn!
According to Olga, construction of the power station was supposed to begin in Taman … and then didn’t. The project collapsed in the summer of 2016 when the investors bailed. The project was frozen for a year. Techno-Prom-Export was left with these 4 turbines. Sort of a white elephant, just sitting in the shed. They were thinking, maybe we’ll sell two of them for the Taman project, and then the other two for something in Grozny. Rostech Chief Sergei Chemezov announced in December of 2016 that he was trying to find a buyer, and was even thinking of holding a tag sale. The price was 166 million Euros. Alas, no buyers could be found. In the end, almost in despair, Chemezov decided: Well, we can’t sell these things, so we’ll just send ’em to Crimea. That’s where they’re needed anyhow. Just coincidentally.