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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Petersburg Trains to Skip Baltics

St. Petersburg -- St. Petersburg rail authorities, citing intractable problems with Baltic customs officials, have said they are negotiating to reroute their Europe-bound trains through Belarus beginning Feb. 1.

Officials at St. Petersburg's October Passenger Railway, a key transport link between the northern city and Europe, said Friday that "out of control" behavior by Latvian and Lithuanian customs officials had forced the move.

"The way they treat passengers is simply out of control and terrorizing," said Sergei Sedov, head of the October Railway international conductors division.

As a result, railroad officials signed an agreement last month with Belarussian authorities to reroute trains on the St. Petersburg-Warsaw route through Minsk as of Feb. 1. The head of the October Railway international service division, Viktor Zhuravlyov, said negotiations were in progress to reroute Berlin-bound and Sofia-bound trains in spring.

Sedov cited numerous reports since the summer in which Baltic customs officials had demanded hard currency for customs declarations, confiscating personal property and passports when bribes were not forthcoming.

He said that in one instance customs officials had tear-gassed passengers who did not open their door quickly enough. Sedov singled out customs procedures in two Latvian towns, Korsava and Daugavpils, and in Turmantov, Lithuania, as the source of the inconveniences.

"People are afraid to travel and we are losing business," Sedov said, citing a 30 percent decrease since July in passenger travel on trains bound for Europe through the Baltics.

Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Baltics have become a key transit spot for smugglers running an illegal trade in metals, automobiles and antiques between Russia and Europe. In an earlier interview, Yevgeny Lukin of the St. Petersburg Security Ministry's press service said that many Russian passengers going through the Baltics have backpacks stuffed with stolen copper wire.

Customs officials in Korsava, Latvia, declined to comment. But Vladimir Zaporozhets, head of customs in Pytalovo, a town on the Russian-Latvian border through which many of St. Petersburg's Europe-bound trains pass, said that "most passengers are usually carrying something in large quantity, ranging from stockings and cigarettes to sometimes even drugs and icons. This should require inspection, but not three-hour delays and panic."