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Tens of kilometers of trucks queueing at Latvian-Russian border

Queues of trucks started to form at the border checkpoint (BCP) "Grebņeva" earlier this year, but now the number of trucks has doubled and local residents are raising the alarm. The situation is similar at the BCP Terehova, Latgale regional television reports April 9.

The first trucks are 20 kilometers away from the Grebņeva border checkpoint. On Tuesday, almost 700 trucks are waiting to cross the border with Russia in Grebņeva and more than 1,600 in Terehova. 

Queues at both checkpoints started two years ago when the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, but the situation on the border has become so critical in the last month.

In Grebņeva, the situation has been critical for about a week. Local residents, especially farmers, are concerned about traffic safety.

"We cannot leave. We have to take detours at other times. The agricultural machinery is four meters wide or more and the trucks are standing and blocking our way. We have been here all our lives. There has never been such a queue," said Sandra, a farmer from the border  area.

The opinions of the long-distance drivers vary: some are understanding and make pockets of entry, others don't. The State Border Guard is not obliged to monitor this, but they make sure that the trucks are not standing in populated areas - in the town of Kārsava and in the village of Nesteri. Waiting in line for a week is a challenge for everyone.

"Seven days of standing. Disaster. Neither Russians nor Latvians are working. Why?! It seems that the border is locked with a key," said Vladimir, a Serbian citizen.

On average, a hundred heavy vehicles cross the border in each direction every day. Most of the long-distance travelers are from Serbia, the cargo comes from ports all over Europe and Russia is used as a transit country.

More than 4,500 goods are on the list of sanctioned goods, which also increases the time needed for inspections. On average, 20 shipments a month are prevented from proceeding, most often because they pose a military threat.

"Often complex technical cargo that may be used for civilian purposes or have a dual use that could be military technology of some kind, then customs controls it all. Also for transit through Russia to third countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, etc., where a lot of cargo goes," said Vilmārs Jakupāns, deputy chief customs officer at the Grebņeva Customs Department.

As Sandra Karklina Admine, spokesperson for the Customs Administration of the State Revenue Service (VID), said, so far all indications suggest queues will remain an issue.

"The queues at Latvia's external border are really big. The main reason is that the number of border crossing points at the external EU border, through which you can pass to Russia and Belarus, has significantly decreased. The clearance areas on the Russian side are full and we can send about 100 vehicles a day towards Russia in Grebņeva. In Terehova it is about 180 vehicles. So those queues will form. Also, carriers have to take into account that we are carrying out control measures regarding the application of sanctions and this may also take longer," said the VID spokesperson.

Locals  worried about waste at the border

Residents are worried not only about traffic safety, but also about the epidemiological situation at the border, with mountains of garbage piling up along the queues of trucks. The company that manages the area, Latvijas valsts ceļi (LVC), is struggling to cope with such a heavy load.

Until yesterday, mountains of rubbish were strewn on both sides of the motorway. Yesterday, LVC cleaned up part of the area, but this morning new rubbish is already visible.

"My property is by the road. My mum's and brother's land is there too. What will State Roads do? They will collect [rubbish] on the road and 15 meters from it. Who will collect the rubbish on my property? Put up bins, put up toilets. It will be cleaner. The border area was supposed to have a developed infrastructure. From the 1990s there are regular queues, but nothing is done," said Raimonds, a resident of Kārsava. 

The drivers interviewed claimed that they did not litter, but the plastic bottles and other trash prove otherwise.

Local residents, long-distance drivers, the State Border Guard and customs representatives agree that the situation could be improved by speeding up the introduction of electronic queuing systems, additional parking areas closer to the border, and a three-lane highway.

Edgars Mekšs (Greens and Farmers Union), Chairman of the Ludza Regional Council, believes that the situation with the queue of trucks should finally be solved at the government level, as the piles of discarded litter and disrupted traffic at the border are just consequences that taxpayers' money is being spent to eliminate.

"The situation here has remained virtually unchanged for two years. The main problem is that there is no electronic queue. This is not yet being addressed at the national level. The municipality has been in constant communication with the responsible services for two years now, and if the situation deteriorates, we react immediately. We also receive complaints from landowners whose properties are next to the road. [..]

"The State Roads are not funded for such emergencies. They simply spread out the rubbish containers and toilets so that they are a kilometer apart when the queues increase. What should drivers do? They go into the bush, or pollute the environment by throwing garbage," said Mekšs.

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