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Baltic states shut borders to Russia-registered cars

September 13, 2023

Estonia has joined Latvia and Lithuania in closing its borders to all vehicles registered in Russia. The ban, which came in response to updated EU guidlines on sanctions, could widen to include other countries.

A man puts a new vehicle registration plate on his car
Motor vehicles registered in the Russian Federation are no longer allowed to enter the territory of the 27-member blocImage: Ivan Noyabrev/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

The Estonian Ministry of the Interior on Wednesday said it had joined Latvia and Lithuania in banning any vehicle with Russian license plates from crossing the border into the country.

The ministry said the move was in accordance with updated European Commission guidelines and that Estonia would talk to other border nations about implementing the measure.

What the foreign ministry said

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said the ban was "the right thing to do" amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine

"As a country bordering Russia, Estonia considers it important to implement restrictions of this kind with neighbors and I welcome the fact that Latvia and Lithuania have already made a similar decision."

"Restrictions have a greater impact when implemented jointly, and this allows us to further raise the cost of the aggression for Russia."

Tsahkna said the move was  completely in line with Estonia’s foreign policy interests, positions, and sanctions policy."

Some exceptions apply, such as transit traffic to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is separated from the rest of Russia by Poland and Lithuania, and for vehicles used by diplomatic and consular missions.

How Russia could cut NATO off from the Baltic states

Tsahkna said the issue of what would happen to Russian-registered cars already in the country was one that still had to be addressed by the government. 

Questions on sanctions clarified

The European Commission guidelines were updated late last week in a document clarifying frequently asked questions.

The document states that, if Russian citizen enter the European Union in their own vehicles, these will be considered to be illegal imports. Cars could be confiscated regardless of the purpose of the trip or expected length of stay.

Tsahkna said that, in a scheduled meeting with representatives of other border states, the issue would be the first topic on the agenda. 

Other high-value items — including cameras, cosmetics, leather and fur products, and semi-precious and precious stones — could also be seized from Russian citizens upon entry.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia's Security Council, on Tuesday denounced the European Commission's move as "racist" and suggested suspending diplomatic with the EU.

Five European Union member states — Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — have a border with Russia, while European Economic Area member Norway also shares a frontier with the country. 

The Baltic states and Poland already stopped many people from entering their countries from Russia nearly a year ago in response to the war.

Tensions on the borders of Poland and the Baltic countries with Russia and Belarus have risen because of Moscow's aggression in Ukraine, a migrant crisis orchestrated by Minsk, and the Russian Wagner mercenary group's presence in Belarus.

Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have said they are prepared to completely shut their borders with the two countries if a "critical situation" occurs.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.