Estonia still weighing whether to seize cars in country with Russian plates

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Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE).
Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian government hasn't yet reached a decision regarding whether to start confiscating cars with Russian plates already in the country, but Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) himself supports the idea, the minister said Thursday.

Currently, vehicles with Russian plates already in the country will be permitted to leave Estonia and/or cross the EU's internal borders.

"The question is, what will become of those vehicles already here — because the European Commission's interpretation of the implementation of this sanction is that these vehicles should be confiscated; that they shouldn't be allowed out of Europe anymore either, as that constitutes the movement of sanctioned goods," Läänemets said at Thursday's government press conference.

The government is now awaiting the Estonian Tax and Customs Board's (MTA) opinion on the matter. "They're the expert when it comes to sanctioned goods and what to do with them and how," he added.

The government hasn't yet discussed the matter, however, but Läänemets said he personally believes they should seize them.

"My position is that sanctions are for enforcement, and these cars should in fact be confiscated — I believe we should get to that," the interior minister said.

"In fact, this raises the question for me as to why these cars with Russian plates are driving around Estonia, or why someone who lives in Estonia would own a car with Russian plates," he continued. "There may be some very good reason for that, but generally speaking, these cars shouldn't actually be here like this. It would be good if these taxes and car insurance were squared away in Estonia if these cars are being driven here."

The government will wait for input from the MTA, at which point what exactly Estonia will do and how is a matter of political choice, he added.

EKRE opposed to car seizures within Estonia

Martin Helme, chair of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), said that their party does not support the idea of confiscating cars with Russian plates already in the country, and that the eastern border should be closed once and for all instead.

"I think this is a bit irrational behavior right now," Helme told ERR on Thursday. "The war has been going on for two years. Where'd this idea come from right now, and why is this being done just now?"

He said he doesn't see what this will accomplish.

"The problem isn't that someone is driving around here with an old Russian-registered Zhiguli; the problem is that trade is still continuing and people are still coming here from across the eastern border," the EKRE chair emphasized.

"This is basically the same thing as the confiscation of Russian companies and assets — that in theory we're going to use these assets to rebuild Ukraine, but no one has thought this mechanism through," he continued. "About how this works, how it relates to international law and to people's right to own property. We can't be like some sort of Eastern countries, that we issue a decree and confiscate people's assets. That isn't in line with the rule of law and normal, Western business practices."

If Estonian authorities start seizing cars with Russian license plates in Estonia, Russian authorities will start to do the same on the other side of the border as well, Helme warned.

"I suppose we're not gonna start working on implementing this until after Stark Logistics' cars have reached the Estonian side of the border," he added.

Seeder: Sanctioned assets must be confiscated

Riigikogu Isamaa whip Helir-Valdor Seeder, meanwhile, said that as these cars are subject to sanctions, then these cars must be confiscated.

"I definitely support both using frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine as well as the confiscation of sanctioned goods, in this case also Russian cars," Seeder said. "This is very sensible in the current circumstances."

This signal must be very strong and robust, he continued.

"We currently have absolutely no reason whatsoever to assume that which isn't the case — that we're dealing with a country and citizens that follow international law, human rights and everything else," the Isamaa parliamentary group chair emphasized.

Car ban already in effect

As of 10 a.m. this Wednesday, Estonia banned motor vehicles with Russian license plates from entering the country, as they are subject to EU sanctions.

With this step, Estonia has adhered to new guidelines issued by the European Commission (link to PDF) on Friday, September 8 regarding the enforcement of existing sanctions, according to which which EU member states may not allow cars with Russian license plates into the EU.

This ban applies not just to private vehicles, but also to company transport operations. Enforcement of these sanctions is mandatory for member states.

In accordance with the Commission guidelines, the motor vehicle entry ban applies regardless of the owner or driver's grounds for their stay in Estonia or the EU.

Upon the arrival of a vehicle with Russian plates at an Estonian border checkpoint, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) will perform the relevant procedures. The driver or owner of a vehicle subject to the entry ban will thereafter either have to return to Russia together with the vehicle or cross the border without it.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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