Estonia's sanctions policy towards Belarus needs reviewing — committee, FM

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Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu, this winter.
Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu, this winter. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia's sanctions policy towards Belarus has to be reviewed, the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee agreed on Monday after an investigation showed companies are dodging the rules. Members said it makes Estonia look like a "hypocrite".

On Monday, newspaper Eesti Päevaleht and Re:Baltica published an investigation that shows, despite sanctions, the volume of Belarusian oil products that have transited through Estonia has tripled in monetary value. This is partly done by using different import codes.

Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Mihhail Lotman (Isamaa) said the Belarusian transit was not something mysterious, and it had been spoken about for months.

"It presents us as hypocrites. Belarusian transit is not something we have to coordinate with, for example, Portugal; this transit goes through Estonia, and it is our right and our duty to stop it. We are arguing with the Germans that Nord Stream 2 must not be allowed to go ahead, but we ourselves are letting both Belarusian and Russian goods through Estonia," Lotman said.

Mihhail Lotman. Source: ERR

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said the confusion surrounding Belarusian transit does not reflect well on Estonia and raises the question of whether the European Union has overlooked something while shaping its sanctions policy.

Mihkelson said that this was not an issue that only concerned Estonia, as the European Union's goal should be to formulate a sanctions policy that would really influence the Belarusian regime to release political prisoners, to implement the will of the Belarusian people by allowing free elections and to stop the constant threatening of neighboring countries.

"This whole issue also has a much wider dimension, which relates to the overall security situation," Mihkelson noted. "If we cannot even impose workable sanctions against Belarus, then what message does it send Russia?" 

Marko Mihkelson (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

 Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) said the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Government is taking the criticism seriously.

She said the complete discontinuation of economic relations with Belarus has not been declared, but measures have been sought to influence the regime and support civil society.  

Writing on social media on Monday, Liimets said: "Although the transit of Belarusian oil products through Estonia in its current form is legal, I fully agree that it looks bad alongside the sanctions [in place]."

She said the enforcement authorities are capable of controlling the situation but added "the government needs to review its policy on sanctions in Belarus in the near future".

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets speaking at the UN Security Council about Belarus in October 2021. Source: Marko Muum.

The minister said she had also raised the issue with Latvia and Lithuania to "form a common position". Lithuania experienced a similar scandal several months ago.

"We must also constantly monitor that the measures are working effectively, and we are ready to take an active part in the relevant debate on the European Union level as well," she said.

Liimets told Delfi the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the sanctions policy with regard to foreign policy and distributes information to the relevant agencies. The Tax and Customs Board and the Financial Intelligence Unit are responsible for enforcing sanctions.

Delfi also reported Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) had spoken to Liimets on Monday morning after the investigation was published and asked for a plan for future coordination.

Kaja Kallas Source: Riigikantselei

She said one issue was imposing the sanctions and the other was enforcement and added this is the foreign minister and ministry's job to coordinate.

Kallas stopped short of saying the investigation proved sanctions were being evaded. "I would like to understand the whole picture," she told Delfi.

The prime minister said clear answers are needed as this issue will be picked up by the international media.

Estonia has applied sanctions alongside the EU and separately with Latvia and Lithuania since the Belarusian presidential election in 2020 which is widely regarded to have been rigged in favor of long-term leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from Kaja Kallas and Eva-Maria Liimets.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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