TALLINN - The crisis has begun to have the unexpected side effect of a thaw in Russian-Estonian relations as the two sides increase transport cooperation in a bid to improve trade ties with China.
According to Eric Laidvee, Chairman of Board of Transiidikeskuse AS, in the next few months thousands of Chinese containers will pass through the Muuga terminal.
Delegates from Estonia, Russia and China met in late March to discuss a plan whereby Chinese goods in transit to Russia would be shipped through one of the three largest ports in Estonia.
While the tense political situation between Estonia and Russia has complicated the discussions, the three sides are now determined to forge ahead with the plan, which is seen as profitable for all players involved.
"It is possible to say for sure that things have started to move slowly. It is the first time that we have suggested a concrete transit path from Tallinn to Moscow," said Valle Feldmann, a representative of Enterprise Estonia in China.
"We showed the prices, discussed the time for delivery of goods and the Chinese liked our plan as they consider that it is really the shortest and the cheapest way to transport the goods through Muuga port to Russia," Feldmann said.
Feldmann said the Estonian delegation was very well prepared for the negotiations and had been willing to put some specific offers on the table that had previously not been up for discussion.
"We have sold a unique transit chain which allows transportation from China and customs clearance in Moscow, with concrete tariffs and terms," Laidvee said.
Muuga Harbor is in competition with the Finnish port of Kotka, which has traditionally shipped goods through to Russia. The goods were then sent with smaller cargo ships on to Russian ports. By utilizing Estonian ports, however, the goods could be sent directly to Russia by rail.
Laidvee said that the new transport route would allow goods from Shanghai to arrive in Moscow two days earlier than it did with the old route.
Estonian port authorities and experts in transit say the new project will bring massive financial benefits to the small country.
"The realization of so-called China-projects in Estonian ports will be profitable for all of Estonia," said Ago Tiiman, the director of Transit and Logistic Association.
"And the reasons are simple: first, Estonia has a strategically very good geographic position in the Baltic trade-sphere, which has been considered as our main advantage also by Chinese experts. Second, realization of these projects means not merely pure transit of goods, but establishment of distribution centers for Chinese goods in the Baltic rim," Tiiman said.
Chief Communications Officer of Port of Tallinn Sven Ratassepp agreed, saying that the project might even be beneficial for the entire region.
"The Chinese Transit project would be profitable for Port of Tallinn, for the whole Estonia and more even 's for the whole region it is meant to be serving; mainly the North-West region of Russia, the Baltic states, [and] part of Scandinavia," Ratassepp said.