By JARI TANNER
HELSINKI (AP) — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have banned vehicles with Russian license plates from entering their territory, a joint move in line with a recent interpretation of the European Union’s sanctions against Moscow over its war on Ukraine.
Estonia imposed the measure on Wednesday morning, matching similar actions by southern neighbors Latvia and Lithuania earlier in the week. Estonia’s interior ministry said the decision by the Baltic nations — which are all NATO members that border Russia — followed “the additional interpretation of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation published by the European Commission” on Sept. 8.
Under the EU’s decision, motor vehicles registered in the Russian Federation are no longer allowed to enter the territory of the 27-member bloc, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic states are among the most vocal European critics of Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
“The goal of the sanctions against Russia is to force the aggressor country to retreat to its borders,” Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets said in a statement.
“We found in consultation with the Latvian and Lithuanian authorities that the restrictions are most effective when sanctions are imposed jointly,” Läänemets said.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday denounced the European Commission’s move as “racist.” He suggested that Moscow could retaliate by suspending diplomatic ties with the EU and recalling its diplomats from Brussels.
Reacting to Estonia’s decision on Wednesday, Andrei Klishas, head of the constitutional legislation committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said Russia should respond in kind.
“Only retaliatory restrictions mirroring that (ban) could lead to the lifting of such EU ‘rules,'” he said.
Russia’s Federal Customs Service reported Wednesday that the first vehicle attempting to enter Estonia with Russian license plates was turned away at a crossing point in the eastern Estonian city of Narva on the border with Russia. The service’s online statement didn’t specify whether it was a truck or a passenger car.
The ban on entering with a motor vehicle applies regardless of the reason for its owner’s or user’s stay in Estonia or the EU. The ban doesn’t apply to vehicles intended for the use of diplomatic and consular missions of the EU and its member states, including delegations, embassies and missions.
Also, motor vehicles bearing a number plate of the Russian Federation are allowed to leave Estonia or cross the internal borders of the EU, the interior ministry said. The same applies to Latvia and Lithuania.
“We cannot allow the citizens of an aggressor state to enjoy the benefits offered by freedom and democracy, while Russia is continuing its genocide in Ukraine,” Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said in a statement.
Tsahkna said Estonia’s government is to discuss Thursday what to do with Russia-registered vehicles already in the country.
The customs agency of Lithuania, which borders Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, said on Wednesday that it had turned back 36 vehicles with Russian license plates from the border in the past 48 hours.
Russian citizens are able to continue transiting through Lithuania to and from Kaliningrad by train.