Minister: Firms listed as importing Russian oil can be removed if requested
The Foreign Ministry is prepared to remove companies from a list it compiled of firms which have applied for exemptions on a European Union Russian oil import embargo, at those companies' request, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says.
The ministry published a list on Wednesday of just under 30 Estonian companies which it says have applied for such exemption, leading to reported backlash in public opinion, as well as confusion from at least two firms whose subsidiaries ended up on the list.
Reinsalu added that he will inform the European Commission about any such requests as they arise.
Speaking at the government's regular Thursday lunchtime press conference, the foreign minister said: "It is not the desire of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be an obstacle in any way. If a company finds that being on the exemptions list is either inconvenient or unfair, taking into account the attitudes of public opinion, and then it does not intend to use this exemption, and if that company informs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I pledge that we will immediately make this information available to the general public, while of course we will submit additional information to the European Commission that this company requests to be removed from the exemptions list also."
EU member states have asked for exemptions on a bar on Russian oil imports on a transitional basis, ahead of a planned full ban, in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, which started over six months ago.
Reinsalu said: "These countries, during the transitional period, have requested an exception as a way to preserve the right to oil trade in the direction of Russia during the transition period, and they ask for a list of companies and inform about it. Estonia has also done so."
Reinsalu was also keen to highlight that companies which have asked for such an exemption, close to 30 in Estonia, as published by the ministry, have not engaged in wrong-doing.
"I wish to stress that these companies have in no way acted illegally. This follows the logic of the [sixth package] sanction agreed by the EU, which permits the exemption. Whether the companies use it or not is for they themselves," he continued.
Estonia has consistently made its voice heard at EU level in calling for oil trade sanctions on Russia to be as extensive as possible.
The transitional period is likely to last until the end of the year, or to February, depending on which type of oil product is in question.
It is up to the Tax and Customs Board (MTA) to assess whether and how much oil has been imported into Estonia under the exemptions, or via transit, Reinsalu added.
Of the 28 companies listed as applying for exemptions on the import of Russian oil, as published by the ministry, there are companies related to freight rail carrier Operail and fuel conglomerate Alexela, though the parent companies say that they themselves have not applied for any such exemption, and are awaiting for clarification from the ministry on the matter.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte