Audit: Fuel Smuggling, Russian Bureaucracy Behind Border Delays
An analysis of Estonian border inspection points by the National Audit Office has concluded that fuel smuggling and a lack of cooperation by Russian customs authorities are the main culprits for the chronic queues at the country's eastern frontier.
The audit found that an inordinate amount of customs inspectors' time was taken up by checking vehicles whose drivers had crossed the border for the sole purpose of bringing back cheap fuel from Russia. According to its estimates, four-fifths of all cars making the crossing are on fuel runs, as are a third of the buses passing through the Narva checkpoint.
The Tax and Customs Board estimates that as much as 7 percent of all motor fuel sold in Estonia has been imported in these vehicles' fuel tanks as part of a well organized black market, the Audit Office said in a statement.
Auditors also said that the lack of a customs agreement between the two countries, which it blamed on the fact that the Federal Customs Service of Russia has not wanted one, had meant that there was simply no customs cooperation between the two sides.
This has meant, for example, that the electronic border queuing system that Estonia recently introduced has not led to any significant improvements.
"The fact that the Russian side accepts vehicles and lets them out in groups causes problems for the Estonian side and reduces its capacity. This means that drivers cannot be certain that they can actually enter the border inspection point at the time booked for them," the Audit Office said.
It also noted a seemingly farcical situation concerning sending goods of animal origin into Russia. Just after Estonia opened its new railway inspection point in Koidula, the only one equipped to handle veterinary inspections, Russian customs authorities are saying they will soon close their corresponding veterinary inspection point over the border in Petseri and build a new one in Ivangorod.
"This situation is highly regrettable, even absurd," said Tarmo Olgo, director of the office's Performance Audit Department. "Estonia has invested more than 800,000 euros of EU money into the Koidula border inspection point to create the necessary conditions and it would make sense for Russia to create the same conditions on its side of the border."
The audit, which was carried out in parallel with a corresponding check by the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation, also found that the situation with cargo transport could be alleviated by the construction of a new bridge in Narva and allocation of more trains by Russian Railways for Estonian lines.