TALLINN - Estonia must wean itself off its reliance on Russian oil supplies and develop Euro-focused trade, Economic Minister Juhan Parts said.
His comments came after a week in which two Russian government ministers reportedly spoke out about purposefully decreasing oil transit through Estonia, at a time when relations between the countries are sagging.
"It is clear that oil transit is not sustainable, permanent or our main economic sector," Parts told The Baltic Times. He said the nation should reorient its trade so that 90 percent is focused on European markets.
He refused to comment on reports from Moscow that the reduction in Russian rail freight to Estonian ports was the personal directive of First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.
While it has long been suspected that the reduction was the result of an informal boycott following the Bronze Soldier riots, a report from the Reuters news service was the first indication of a formal sanction.
"There was a meeting chaired by Ivanov and he ordered that transit via Estonia be limited," an industry source told Reuters. The same report quoted another oil industry source who said all fuel exporters had been ordered to reroute half of their volumes to other ports.
Days later, Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin gave an interview in Latvia in which he said Russia intended to export all of its refined oil through its own ports.
Levitin said new ports near St. Petersburg had increased their capacity.
"But, of course, business will develop where the situation is comfortable and profitable, and where the moral and political climate is favorable," Levitin told the Latvian newspaper Chas.
Parts said it was complicated to respond to the reports, which have both been circulated widely around the globe.
"Sometimes the remarks turn out to be different from the context," Parts said.
"It would not be smart to reply if I have not got any official information from my Russian colleague."
But he expressed his previously-stated position that strong competition between Baltic and Russian ports was welcome.
"If there is fair competition, then this is the best solution for the sector. Fair competition without any kind of decisions from any administration will be the sustainable way forward for the transit business."
He said Estonia should be ready for a time when Russia ceases to export oil at all, a prospect likely if internal demand and refining capabilities increase.
"This oil transit is not sustainable. Our middle term goal is to expand the services that our ports and railway can offer worldwide," he said.