Trade between Estonia and Central Asian Republics such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has grown dramatically in recent years, but this means that it is likely the case that goods on Russian sanctions lists are making their way from Estonia and the European Union, via the Central Asian countries and ultimately to Russia, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.
Estonian trade grew mostly with Kazakhstan following Russia's invasion of Ukraine from February 2022, though trade with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan also grew significantly in that time, AK reported.
Whereas in 2021, exports to Kazakhstan totaled €11 million, this year that figure is likely to have risen ten-fold.
Marie Allikmaa, who heads up the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications' business department, told AK that: "For the most part, exports have been rising in transit through Estonia, that is, goods from other EU member states reach our border points. But we have also been seeing that the export of precisely the same products which are on sanctions lists to Russia have been increasing to third countries," referring to non-EU/EEA states.
This naturally gives cause for concern that Russia is then getting hold of sanctioned goods via these third countries, particularly dual-use items which could have both a military and civilian application.
Exports to Central Asian countries grew particularly rapidly at the beginning of the year, but then slowed down somewhat from the summer.
According to the Tax and Customs Board (MTA), there are many Estonian entrepreneurs who have unwittingly facilitated goods to pass through Central Asia thence to Russia, which has necessitated stricter checks.
Külli Kurvits, head of the MTA's customs formalities, said: "We have directed our entrepreneurs to fulfill their duty of care more."
"They now are getting significantly more information about what they need to do to check a the goods transaction they plan to make is such that it really takes place with a Central Asian country or if it is already known in advance that the ultimate destination will be the Russian Federation," she added.
Finland's recent full closure of its Eastern border with Russia has also significantly increased the MTA's workload, as non-sanctioned items nations formerly transited through Finland are now passing through Estonia.
Toomas Tirs, Estonia's ambassador to all of the Central Asian Republics, told AK that at a meeting last week with Kazakh and Uzbek colleagues, stress was put on the importance of customs cooperation, the need to improve this and the need to foster closer direct contacts.
"The goal is certainly to ensure that there is no scope for combat-related goods, sensitive goods, dual-purpose items etc. to transit, and that there is no major mediation going on to that end, involving firms and businesses from these countries," he added.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary General Jonatan Vseviov recently said that Estonia and the Central Asia Republics share a history, in some ways, something which helps with understanding each others' positions.
Kazakh-Russia trade is in the billions of dollars.
Shortly before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, political unrest hit Kazakhstan, following a spike in fuel prices, while Russia participated in a peace-keeping force, a force which included the use of airborne forces, aimed at "quelling" anti-government protests.
Kazahkstan's refusal to recognize the Russia-proclaimed states of Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic led to a cooling of relations between Astana and Moscow, as evidenced by Russia's suspension of shipments of oil from landlocked Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan has also taken in large numbers of Russian draft dodgers, anxious to avoid the military mobilizations declared after the Ukraine invasion.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Iida-Mai Einmaa.