According to Eerik Heldna, director of the Customs Department at the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA), Narva's second border crossing checkpoint (Narva-2) doesn't pose a particular problem, but it does create more work for customs officials.
In an interview with the Russian-language ETV+, Heldna said that he fully supports a recent proposal by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) to close the Narva-2 border checkpoint.
"This checkpoint currently serves a very small part of the population," he said. "I see no practical value for it beyond the fact that it constitutes an additional risk channel — a channel for circumventing sanctions and smuggling contraband. I can't say that it's the primary problematic channel, but if we can free up customs officials from that work and send them where more attention should be paid to inspecting goods or those crossing the border, then I am in favor of that."
He acknowledged that Estonia currently lacks the political will to close that particular border checkpoint. "Customs doesn't make such decisions," he added.
The recently imposed eighth sanctions package against the Russian Federation saw new additions to the list of goods that cannot be transported across the Estonian-Russian border, but according to Heldna, this sanctions package nonetheless didn't generate much confusion among those crossing it.
"The rules of the game are pretty clear for Estonian residents who frequently visit the Russian Federation, because sanctions packages started being passed immediately following the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine, i.e. beginning this February," he explained. "The eighth package merely expanded the list. We've been living in this mode for eight months already, and tactics have been figured out."
According to the MTA official, it can't be said that issues with customs rules at the border are frequent. "Since sanctions were imposed, we've checked 35,000 distinct declarations and have identified some 1,200 offenses," he highlighted. "Investigations were launched regarding just a couple dozen of these."
A total embargo on Russia would mean a faster end to Russia's ongoing aggression, but it would require the consensus of all 27 EU member states, Heldna said, noting that Estonia is one EU member state for whom a total embargo wouldn't lead to catastrophic consequences for local residents, as Estonia's dependence on the Russian market is limited.
One tactic used to circumvent customs rules is listing the destination for goods in customs documents as Kazakhstan, for example, while actually sending them to the Russian market; this trick is quite common in Estonia.
"I don't recommend anyone try such methods," the customs official warned, noting that customs officials' suspicions are raised as soon as someone is unable to explain how the goods in question are supposed to reach Kazakhstan.
"For example, someone is taking a boat out and tries to convince us that as soon as they cross the Russian border, they intend to travel by boat up the river to Kazakhstan," he said, recalling such an incident at the border.
Regarding the transport of medicine across the border, Heldna stressed that they can only be imported for personal use. He noted that attempts to smuggle prescription drugs or drugs that aren't authorized for use in Estonia into the country are very common.
Commenting on an unusual case to make the rounds on social media recently, in which a post office in Estonia refused to issue a package to its recipient because the school diploma it contained was framed in a wooden frame, the MTA official confirmed that officially speaking, this was exactly right, as the import of wooden products is indeed prohibited.
Editor: Aili Vahtla