Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that Estonia wants countries neighboring Russia to lay down a common trade embargo. But negotiations have been unsuccessful so far, with Finland the key player therein.
Electronics, factory fittings, food and plastics are being hauled from Estonia to Russia every day. Companies registered in other EU countries make far more frequent use of border crossing points in Estonia than local ones.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) said that Estonia does not have the strength to turn off the tap by itself, suggesting that Estonian firms would suffer if the country took unilateral action.
For example, when the government ordered Estonian national rail carrier Operail to suspend its Russia operations, Latvia's Latvijas Dzelzcels stepped in. Therefore, the Estonian government feels border states should decide to stop trade together.
Tsahkna said that pressure to take more decisive steps is also mounting in Poland and Lithuania, with elections looming in both.
Border closures were on the agenda in Lithuania and Poland around the time Russian mercenary company Wagner moved to Belarus. But Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said in early September that the question of whether to close the border completely is becoming less relevant.
"If the situation becomes more difficult, we will act in a certain way. If the situation remains unchanged or stabilizes, we must behave differently. No one wants to close the border just for fun," Nauseda told Lithuania's public broadcaster.
Margus Tsahkna still believes that efforts to restrict trade are worth discussing with his Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Finnish colleagues.
"We could at the very least, working together, decide that there will be no transit of sanctioned groups through Russia to third countries from the region," he proposed. There have been signs to suggest sanctioned goods are moving to Russia under the pretense of claims they will move on to Central Asia for months.
The foreign minister added that limiting or shutting off trade would not require permission from the EU.
"These possibilities exist outside the EU framework, how regional countries can self-regulate. We are sovereign states at the end of the day," Tsahkna said.
Finland not prepared to suspend trade
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that other states bordering Russia have not gone along with Estonia's proposal so far.
"Work continues, they take a lot of convincing. However, relevant efforts have not been successful so far," the PM said.
Kallas recalled that when Estonia decided to stop issuing visas to Russian tourists, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland went along, with Finland joining some time later.
"No one is on board with this thing," Kallas said. "The main concern is that if we do not do it together, and Finland is key there, then goods will simply move elsewhere. And we end up punishing our entrepreneurs."
Asked for concrete reasons countries have for not suspending trade with Russia, Kallas said: "I would not like to point the finger at specific countries but... Finland. We have not seen eye to eye or been able to agree so far."
Kallas added that she has not discussed the matter with Finland's new head of government Petteri Orpo but promised to do so soon.
A lot of goods from major European manufacturers also reach Russia through the border states.
The Estonian prime minister said that there is no Europe-wide consensus for closing borders. "There is war fatigue in Europe. And things are moving in the wrong direction in countries farther away from Russia," Kallas said, giving the example of Austria's gas contracts. "There are other such signs. There is no support for this initiative there."
Margus Tsahkna said that no European country wants to admit it wants anything to do with Russia. "But the industrial and capital lobby is clearly visible. And it is a normal phenomenon," the minister remarked.
Reinsalu: Previous government waited for Europe-wide agreement
Isamaa leader, former Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu also believes that countries bordering Russia should work together to end trade. He made a corresponding proposal last summer when Isamaa, the Social Democratic Party and the Reform Party were negotiating a coalition.
"But the Reform Party did not support such a border states agreement at the time," Reinsalu recalled. "The common ground we ended up with in the coalition agreement was that Estonia would promote suspending land-based trade on the EU level."
Reinsalu presented the proposal on the EU level last fall. "But it did not go beyond the Commission level as a Europe-wide agreement. This means most Member States were opposed," the politician said.
Reinsalu also said that he did not have a mandate to look for an agreement between border states in the previous government.
But Kaja Kallas remembers the situation differently. "I do not know why Reinsalu is trying to paint it in a poorer light today," the PM said, adding that she had no differences of opinion in terms of foreign policy with Reinsalu at the time.
Kallas said that Estonia has maintained throughout the war that border states should end Russia trade together, even should it prove impossible to achieve a Europe-wide agreement. "That is what we have tried to negotiate with our colleagues from other Russia neighbors. That we could do with trade what we achieved with visas."
But Reinsalu stuck to his guns, saying that no such common position made the coalition agreement.
Editor: Marcus Turovski