Russia cuts back fuel exports via Estonia, cargo deliveries over Narva bridge

  • 2007-05-16
  • By TBT staff

WATER UNDER TROUBLED BRIDGE: Russia's decision to prohibit heavy tonnage trucks from crossing the bridge for safety concerns is bizarre given the country.

TALLINN - The extent of Russia's punitive measures against Estonia for moving the Soviet war memorial became clearer last week after Leningrad region officials placed restrictions on trucks crossing the Narva bridge and oil traders revealed that shipments via the Baltic state had declined by one-third so far in May. Oil trading firms rushed to re-route scheduled exports, Reuters reported May 10, while a core group of major exporters were allowed to continue exporting crude oil and oil products via Estonian ports.

Russian Railways announced in the beginning of May that it would begin repairing track near Estonia and that the announcement had nothing to do with the Baltic state's decision to move the disputed Bronze Soldier monument and Soviet war grave from Tonismagi in downtown Tallinn.
"The main schedule is now being cleared," a trader told Reuters, "but the railway is declining to accept any additional [exports] for May." The trader said additional exports normally exceed the preliminary schedule by 30 - 35 percent.
A Muuga port official told Reuters that the overall May decline in oil handling could exceed 30 percent.
The Tallinn and Muuga ports annually account for 25 million tons of Russia's exports of oil products, or approximately one-fourth of all Russian oil product exports.

At the same time, Estonia's share in Russia's total trade turnover accounts for 0.7 percent, the RIA-Novosti agency reported.
Russian officials denied the existence of any punitive trade measures aimed at Estonia.
Officials from the Leningrad Oblast administration said they had received an order last week prohibiting all trucks weighing more than 3.5 tons from crossing the bridge over the Narva River marking the Estonian-Russian border.
"A decision to this effect was made by the Russian Federal Roads Administration since the bridge has become worn out and is in need of repairs," Valentin Sidorin, spokesman for the regional administration, said.
He stressed that reports about the bridge's dangerous condition were old. "Some truck dropping through the bridge would cause an international scandal," he said.

He could not say how long the restriction would remain in force. "It's a purely technical problem," he said, adding the decision was unrelated to the Bronze Soldier monument.
The bridge is a vital trade link between the two countries, with up to 200,000 trucks crossing the bridge annually. For years there have been plans to build a second bridge, but negotiations ground to a halt once the Estonian government began preparations to remove the Bronze Soldier.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet called St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko to express disapproval of the move, saying that "restricting the movement on the Narva bridge will first and foremost harm interpersonal contact" since many family members and relatives live on opposite sides of the river.

Paet also expressed concern that the recently re-launched Tallinn-St. Petersburg train route was again canceled.
Estonian entrepreneurs began calculating their possible losses as a result of Russia's de facto campaign of economic retribution against Estonia. The Transit Association said that annual revenues in the sector would sink by several billion kroons.
In the best-case scenario, the volume of shipments will drop by up to 20 percent, while the worst-case scenario holds that freight flows could shrink by 60-65 percent over three to five years, the association said. In the latter case, up to 5,000 people could lose their jobs.

The association also claimed that member companies' revenues would fall by approximately 200 million kroons (12.8 million euros) per each 1 million tons of goods in overall handling decline.
Tallinna Sadam (Port of Tallinn) and Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway) executives predicted that their annual revenues would decline by up to 200 million and 360 million kroons respectively, the Eesti Ekspress reported.
Finally, Estonia's food industry, which exports 23 percent of its output to Russia, could also take a serious blow as a result of an embargo.

"There's no official ban on Estonian products from Russia," Sire Potisepp, head of Estonia's Food Industry Union, told the SL Ohtuleht daily, "but it's being made clear between the lines that Estonian goods are not welcomed for sale."
Estonian Railway officials said the drop in cargo turnover will lead to an increase in the variable expense component the company charges all rail operators for use of infrastructure. As a company official explained, if the overall amount of rail freight is smaller, the variable expense per gross ton per kilometer increases, and this is passed on to the consumer.
Also the Economic Affairs and Communication Ministry said last week that Russia was delaying completion of paperwork necessary for launching flights between Tallinn and St. Petersburg. An agreement was reached in March on launching the flight, but lately Russia has been slow to fill out the requisite documents, a ministry official said.