Estonia mulls closing one border crossing point with Russia
The government is discussing the closure of one of the five border crossing points with Russia as traffic has dropped significantly and relations are unlikely to improve in the next five years, Minister of Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said on Thursday.
It is thought changes to car traffic may be made at the Koidula crossing point in south Estonia and the issue is being studied.
"We would like to have the analyses ready in the second half of this year, and then we will be able to see what the impacts are and whether or not it is justified to go ahead with this. There is no decision at the moment, the analyses are only now starting to come in," Läänemets told ERR on Thursday.
The minister cited a steep decrease in the number of crossings — by almost 80 percent in total and mostly in south Estonia, bad relations with Russia, and cost savings as reasons behind the move.
"Do we need two adjacent points [Koidula and Luhamaa] when border crossings have fallen by almost 50 percent?" Läänemets questioned.
"The second [argument] is that, given Russia's aggressive behavior, nothing will change here in the next few years, maybe in the next five years, and traffic will not be restored as it is," he added.
The minister said three aspects will be examined in the analysis.
"One is the burden on the Police and Border Guard Board [PPA]. The other is all the accompanying activities — there are also customs issues and additional investments, such as the investment needs for the bridge and everything else that the state should carry out there in the near future," he said.
"The third aspect is the most important. It's about the socio-economic impact on the surrounding area, jobs and movement of people."
Läänemets said it would be possible to install an automatic gate at the Koidula crossing so people with permission could continue to cross without supervision. A similar system was recently installed at the Saatse crossing last month.
The topic has made headlines today after Veiko Kommusaar, undersecretary for Internal Security at the Ministry of the Interior, raise the issue in newspaper Postimees. He specifically mentioned a reduction of services at the Koidula crossing.
Kommusaar said 66 percent of traffic crosses the border at Narva, 14 percent at Luhamaa, 10 percent at Koidula, and 9 percent at the second crossing in Narva, which is temporarily closed for renovation.
Road haulage companies: Border queues should be abolished first
Ermo Perolainen, secretary general of the Association of Estonian International Road Carriers, told ERR that closing one border point to cars is a bad idea.
He said there are already permanent queues to cross the border, sometimes they can last for up to a week.
"There is no way to look at the idea positively. If there are already queues at the border, the closure of one border crossing point will make the situation even more difficult," he said.
Läänemets said haulage companies need to be listened to but added the fault mostly lies with Russian customs.
"They have their own standards for how many they let through. But that is also something that has to be taken into account because the decision has not yet been taken," Läänemets said.
The number of Russians who crossed the Estonian border, arriving and departing, in April 2023 was just under 70,000.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright