TALLINN - Russia's railroad chief held informal talks with Estonian Economic Affairs Minister Juhan Parts on Dec. 8, the first meeting by a highly placed Russian official since bilateral relations between the countries collapsed earlier this year.
Though the hour-long meeting took place at the ministry's request, it was arranged by Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railways), Estonia's railway company that was nationalized earlier this year.
Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin and Parts, together with Estonian Railways CEO Kaido Simmermann, discussed railroad and port infrastructure development in both the Baltic state and Russia.
A large delegation of Russian businessmen had accompanied Yakunin to Estonia, according to reports.
Though no agreement or memorandum materialized from the talks, the closed-door meeting was a breakthrough in facilitating a thaw seven months after the Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn and an organized cyber-attack on Estonian Web sites that in all likelihood had been orchestrated in Russia.
"We discussed matters that complicate rail traffic between the two countries," Yakunin said in brief remarks to the press.
"Estonia expressed an interest in creating better conditions for passenger transport, first and foremost to and from St. Petersburg," Parts commented, adding that the two sides avoided political issues.
Yakunin's primary purpose in visiting Estonia was to attend a commemorative ceremony dedicated to the 65th anniversary of World War II pilot Endel Puusepp, an ethnic Estonian and Soviet war hero. Yakunin is chairman of Center for National Glory, an NGO that promotes Russia's military heritage.
In the words of Simmermann, "Although the purpose of Russian Railways chief's visit to Estonia is not related to the railroad, I proposed Vladimir Yakunin find time for a meeting."
Simmermann was keen to use the opportunity to promote Estonian Railways, which has seen its cargo handling and infrastructure fees plummet almost 40 percent year-on-year.
"There hasn't been an official dialogue worth mentioning between Eesti Raudtee and Russian Railways for six months now, but the changes have been huge, and both countries' railway companies have much to talk about concerning the future," he said.
Estonia Railway's has altered the structure of its freight carriage, placing a priority on container shipments from the West to Russia.
Yakunin and the delegation of Russian businessmen also met with Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who is renowned for maintaining ties with political circles in Moscow, particularly the pro-Kremlin United Russian party.
Parts said he and Yakunin discussed competition among ports in the Baltic Sea region and whether cooperation was possible. "He (Yakunin) considers that this is possible," the minister said.
Yakunin said it was wrong to consider that the Center for National Glory was a political organization advancing Russia's interests. He said the organization was open to all and contained many nationalities.
Freight turnover on Estonian Railway's infrastructure totaled 2.3 million tons in November, down 38.7 percent year-on-year, the company announced on Dec. 10. Of total freight volume nearly 61 percent consisted of oil or oil products, which as a group were down 30.5 percent against last year.
Russia's railway industry had tempestuous relations with the previous owner of Estonian Railways, Baltic Rail Services, which after five years of controlling the company was forced to sell it back to the state earlier this year.