An influx of tourism from the Russian Federation during and immediately after the holiday period has reached record levels at the border crossing in the eastern Estonian town of Narva, as well as bringing traffic congestion. Pressure has also risen in the opposite direction as well.
The figure for crossings from east to west doubled on New Year's Day 2020, from its usual level of around 12,000 per day, ERR reports, with January 3 seeing a record of over 25,000 people crossing the border (revised from an earlier figure of over 22,000 crossings-ed.).
Russian Orthodox Christmas was celebrated this week.
To deal with the increase, cars are being routed via the truck checkpoint, and additional Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel have been drafted in, though this has not fully alleviated the situation, according to Indrek Püvi of the PPA.
"Each border infrastructure reaches a limit where it simply can't take on more physically," he said.
"If we had a continuous stream of traffic, there really wouldn't be a problem at the border and everyone would be happy and calm, but right now practically a hundred cars are already in the queue," said Püvi.
Püvi added that those planning to go in the other direction to visit Russia could avoid congestion by traveling before lunch, and certainly before evening, bearing in mind the mandatory pre-crossing waiting in Narva. Another issue is short trips over the border and back again via car, which add unnecessary work for checkpoint personnel, and should be avoided, Püvi said.'
Narva's border crossing is the busiest in Estonia, with over four million people passing through annually.
The Russian Federation started issuing free electronic visas for visiting St Petersburg, about 160 kilometers from the border, last year, which has also contributed to the congestion, according to some reports, though this has not been behind the recent surge over the new year period, Püvi said.
"[Russia's free electronic visas] have affected border crossings slightly, but not in the context of the January holidays. Instead, peak levels are during Estonian national holidays, when our people want to travel and rest," he said.
According to tourist bodies in St. Petersburg, about 100,000 electronic visa applications have been submitted since October last year and over 60,000 tourists have already visited St. Petersburg under the scheme over the past three months.
Latvian and Lithuanian travelers now also use the Narva border crossing when traveling to St. Petersburg, it is reported.
The Eastern Prefecture advises border crossers to visit eestipiir.ee and to make an appointment. It is also recommends tourists to use the Luhamaa or Koidula border checkpoints, in southeastern Estonia, if possible, instead.
Editor: Andrew Whyte