The export of Russian fuel oil by rail through Estonia could be stopped completely within a year, according to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Ivanov said the new heavy fuel terminal at the Russian port of Ust-Luga would replace the Estonian transshipment route.
"So far Russia had no ports to handle heavy fuel oil and the first tankers with this product will go via Ust-Luga," he told reporters during a visit to the port, which is in the Leningrad region south-west of St. Petersburg.
"It means that we will start to reduce railway transportation of our heavy fuel oil to Estonia. In a year we will completely stop its delivery to Estonian ports," Ivanov was quoted saying.
Ivanov said the first phase of the heavy fuel terminal at Ust-Luga was due to begin operations by the end of 2009.
Russia has been keen to ensure that more of the country's exports are handled via its own ports. According to Ivanov, foreign ports transhipped 75% of Russian export cargo in the late 1990s. He said that figure had fallen to 13%.
The Estonia port of Tallinn is the most vulnerable to the change in fuel oil export routes. Russian oil products, chiefly fuel oil, are said to account for a large share of Tallinn's cargo throughput.
Late last year, an official from Estonian Railways predicted there would be no Russian oil shipments through Estonia within three or four years.
Ivanov's comments this week were met with some skepticism in Estonia.
The former head of the Estonian Logistics and Transport Association told local media that Ivanov's statements were meant for Russians and carried little real meaning.
He pointed out that the commissioning of the Ust-Luga terminal had been subject to a series of delays, and questioned if it would begin operations as planned this time around.
Estonian companies have taken the launch of the Ust-Luga fuel oil terminal into account, he stated, without providing any further detail.
Meanwhile, the bunkering arm of Russian energy giant Gazprom recently launched operations at Ust-Luga. Gazpromneft Marine Bunker began offering marine fuel supplies by barge at Ust-Luga at the beginning of May.