Confusing news of secret export to Estonia

Russian customs data reveals that Estonia received $377 million worth of so-called secret goods from Russia last year. PHOTO: RBK

Russian business news portal RBK reports that data from the Russian customs authority suggests top ten Russian so-called secret export destinations include six NATO countries, Estonia among them.

Russian customs data reveals that Estonia received $377 million worth of so-called secret goods from Russia last year and has received $241 million worth so far this year. These sums are big enough to warrant a few questions about which secret goods are reaching Estonia. The RBK article provides no answer.

Official Russian customs statistics reveals that the top ten destinations for secret types of goods (designated with the SSSS code in customs statistics and covering weapons and munitions, military and civilian aircraft, including planes and helicopters, nuclear materials and other so-called sensitive goods) include, in addition to Algeria, China, India and the United Arab Emirates, NATO countries USA, Czechia, Germany, UK and the Netherlands plus, in ninth place and in between the latter two, Estonia. The country also made the top ten last year, next to USA and Turkey.

The Russian article takes a closer look at Czechia, noting that Russia mainly exports aviation equipment and spare parts as the Czech Republic is home to the only company in NATO countries that repairs MI helicopters. There is also talk of the Aircraft Industries factory, owned by Russian mining and metal group UGMK, that builds L-410 aircraft. Let it be said that the Czech customs authorities have a different view of statistics.

Chemical products classified as hidden

So-called secret goods moving from Russia to Germany and the Netherlands also have to do with aviation, including radioactive chemical products in the case of the former.

Secret goods sent to the U.S. also mainly cover chemical products classified as nuclear fuel. Cartridges for civilian firearms are another major Russian export to USA, while sanctions laid down in September of 2021 should start affecting this particular goods group in the coming months.

However – what secret goods are transport to Estonia in what seem to be noteworthy quantities and volume? The initial answers Postimees receives are startlingly rigid.

Eerik Heldna, head of the customs department of the Tax and Customs Board, said that export and import of military goods to and from Russia is prohibited by the Council of Europe sanctions decision (2014/512/CFSP) over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. “The Tax and Customs Board (MTA) keeps a close eye on movement of said goods and seizes them if it detects violations. There have been no weapons export violations from the direction of Russia and the MTA has not discovered hidden shipments of weapons recently,” Heldna said.

Laconic answer to an important question

The MTA suggested we turn to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for additional comments.

The ministry’s public relations service said that the question is very important, while the reply it sent a little later was short and laconic and basically repeated the MTA’s point: “European Union sanctions against Russia (the so-called 2014/512/CFSP weapons embargo) are in effect since July 31, 2014 and are being complied with by member states. Estonia has issued Russia no arms import, export or transit licenses since the limitations took effect in 2014.”

We returned to customs officers for answers in terms of what types of goods are moving from Russia to Estonia in more covert fashion.

It turns out that Russian statistics classifies as so-called secret types of goods, in addition to arms, munitions and radioactive materials, the temporary export of aircraft, means of transport and ships for the purposes of repairs.

The weapons and munitions group also includes 4.5 millimeter air guns and their ammunition that can be purchased in any hunting goods store.

In the vehicles group, tractors, buses and passenger cars can be listed as secret goods etc.

In the aircraft group, also considered secret or hidden in Russian customs statistics, covers both military and civilian aircraft and their spare parts, as well as balloons, hang gliders etc. Other secret items include ships, boats, floating structures, including fishing and leisure crafts, decommissioned ships, tugboats, yachts etc. The MTA explained that Russian vessels repaired in Estonian shipyards can reflect as secret exports in Russian customs statistics.

“Therefore, the sensational headline hides no sensational content,” media specialist for the MTA Dmitri Pastuhhov said. “The MTA is keeping a close eye on compliance with sanctions within its administrative area. Estonia has no classified or military exchange of goods with the Russian Federation,” he said.

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