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RZD to Move Estonian Oil by Year-End, Yakunin Says

TALLINN, Estonia — Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin hopes to move oil-product shipments from neighboring Estonia to Russian ports by the end of 2010, Estonian daily Eesti Paevaleht reported Wednesday.

Diplomatic spats between the two countries play a significant role in deliveries to Baltic ports, he said. Estonia and Russia in 2007 fell out after Estonia moved a Red Army World War II monument from the center of its capital city.

"We hope that by the end of 2010 the export of petroleum products will go through Ust-Luga [in Russia]," Russian Railways chief executive Vladimir Yakunin told the newspaper, adding that there was also close cooperation with the port of Murmansk.

"It is difficult to answer unequivocally as I am not an oil trader, but as a railway man I think, yes, this will bring significant reductions in oil transit to Estonia," he said, though noting that this would be up to the oil trading companies.

Estonia's ice-free port of Muuga shipped 23 million metric tons of Russian oil products in 2009 and has been an important outlet for Russian refineries.

After the 2007 dispute, oil product loadings slipped to 20 million metric tons in 2008 from highs of 26 million metric tons in 2005.

Coal loading was halted and redirected from Tallinn to the neighboring Riga port in Latvia.

"If access to the sea through ports is based on good neighborly relations, then it is good for all, but if these relations worsen, then, of course, countries that depend on the transit of its goods through another country feel discomfort and may be pushed to create their own opportunities," he added.

Russia has also said Estonia discriminates against its large population of ethnic Russians, and talks about a formal border agreement, almost 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, remain stalled.

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