While the immediate effects have been longer wait times on both sides of the border – sometimes stretching into days – and a change in the makeup, by nationality, of truck drivers crossing the border, longer term effects are likely to be a shortage of drivers when, for instance, Russian citizens with temporary work permits in Estonia see their permits expire – likely all by the end of this year – meaning they can no longer make cross-border trips driving for Estonian or EU hauliers.
In the immediate term, operations are taking longer, customs officials have to deal with sometimes obtuse Serbian and Tajik hauliers, wait times at the border have increased, while truck drivers are becoming an increasingly rare commodity, AK reported.
In the lanes of the border waiting area at the Koidula crossing point in southeastern Estonia (see gallery above), Balkan ballads have replaced Russian disco as the background music of choice, AK reported, while Tax and Customs Board (MTA) lead customs inspector Kairi Päike told reporter Mirjam Mõttus that: “Since Russian carriers are no longer allowed to conduct [cross-border] transport, they have been replaced by hauliers from Serbia, Moldova and other countries, which were not very common this time last year.”
This switchover has also presented some challenges, not least linguistically if the drivers are not conversant in English or Russian.
“Their language skills are lacking. We are still having to find all kinds of ways to talk to them calmly, and explain the circumstances to them,” Päike said.
These delays are caused by the longer times taken to check cargo and driver documentation.
One such driver, Sergei Vaiculis, from Lithuania, told AK he had been waiting in line at the Koidula road border crossing for a whole two days. He was waiting to enter Russia, destination Moscow, with a consignment of toys.
“We have been waiting here for a long time for the umpteenth time already. Coming from the other [Russian] side, we also have to wait for a very long time. On this side, we can at least go home if needed, but coming from the other side, we stand around for three or four days,” he said.
At the same time, since he has an additional source of income, Sergei said he was not too worried about the effects of the sanctions.
“I’ve been working in this field for so long that maybe it’s time to change jobs. So I’m not too worried about whether I’ll have a job in this area or not. Nothing bad will happen. There have been worse times, believe me,” he said.
Another driver, German, from Pskov, in Russia, who whiles away the hours in the long lines by repairing clothes, said the sanctions had caused him to lose his job, while he now works for an Estonian firm.
He said: “I lost my job at a Russian company when the sanctions came into force because Russian vehicles stopped driving in the EU. Now I work for an Estonian company and am driving between here and Russia again, but it is very easy to lose my job again, because new laws and restrictions are coming out every day in connection with the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine. So in terms of work, it is unknown what will happen to us tomorrow.”
German said he currently has a valid Estonian work permit, but it will expire at the end of this year
Alvar Tõruke, manager at haulier DSV Eesti, told the show that: “So far as I have understood things , [work permits] would likely not be extended. The driver crisis will worsen even more as a result.
“Today, an Estonian driver is worth their weight in gold; in general, the truck drivers as such are in a great deficit across the EU; a very valuable commodity.”
DSV halted cross-border trade from February 25, he added, which had led to greater difficulties.