ANDRES REIMER: OPERAIL TRANSPORTING GOODS IN LUKASHENKA’S INTERESTS DOESN’T STRIKE ME AS NON-IDEALISTIC
, Eesti Päevaleht
In its editorial of 16 December, Eesti Päevaleht raised the extremely important issue of the balance between ideals and economically rational behaviour, emphasising that ideals are more important.
Should Operail be transporting goods in the interests of Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, even if it’s completely legal? I have to admit that Operail’s transit business even seems idealistic to me.
If we followed all of the modern ideals, we’d have to give up personal cars, meat, alcohol, frequenting restaurants and parties, and start collecting maggots for our meals. I don’t want to.
The ill-considered application of ideals is the very reason why we’re now forced to pay exorbitant prices for energy. Thanks to the ideals, we have to seriously consider the possibility that we might freeze in one of the coming winters due to the lack of heating fuels.
Estonians appreciate the importance of ideals. At the end of the last century, Russian President Boris Yeltsin imposed double customs duties on Estonia to punish us for restoring our independence on the basis of legal continuity. The Kremlin said that giving grey passports to non-citizens who migrated to Estonia during the occupation was a violation of human rights.
The double customs duties significantly hampered our businesses, because we were able to export mainly to Russia because of our business connections and quality at the time. The double customs duties resulted in massive criminalisation and corruption of cross-border trade. Yeltsin’s regime wanted to stifle Estonia’s development in order to force us to give up on maintaining the continuity of our state.
It was only after Estonia’s accession to the European Union that President Vladimir Putin abolished the double customs duties. The only reason why Putin changed his mind about the basis of Estonia’s independence was that it was unwise for Russia to establish double customs duties for the European Union. The Kremlin made a concession on its own ideals.
Despite this, the Estonians placed a monument to Yeltsin in Tallinn’s Old Town for supporting Estonian independence. As far as I know, there are no monuments to the then Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Arnold Rüütel in Russia, although without Estonia’s support, international recognition of the Russian Federation would have been much more difficult.
At the same time, nothing stood in the way of the rapid growth of transit business through Estonia. The boom lasted only as long as the Kremlin believed it could influence Estonian politics with the transit lobby.
When the so-called Bronze Soldier riots broke out in Tallinn, things changed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the so-called Bronze Night was financed by the Russian business circles interested in the construction of the Ust-Luga port. The warm glow of the Kremlin’s light now fell on the Ust-Luga project, which was drowning in theft, corruption and shady business deals, and it was transformed into the most important transport hub in the Gulf of Finland.
Estonia’s transit trade was hit by an unofficial embargo from Russia. No sanctions were imposed, but no trains came here, because the railway to Estonia was ‘under repair’ continuously. It still is, to this day.
What remained of Estonia’s transit business and jobs in the sector after Russia’s heel-turn was largely thanks to the transit of Belarusian goods. Lukashenka’s regime was the same as it is today.
Like private individuals, companies have to comply with the law and pay taxes. Even the most idealistic person who wants to contribute to reducing the public deficit cannot pay more income tax than determined by law. The tax office refunds the money. Operail also doesn’t have to do more than required by law.
Standing up for the interests of Estonian businesses should be an important part of our ideals, because the well-being of every Estonian depends on it. We shouldn’t be making up sanctions for ourselves.