UKRAINE is to resume cargo transportation after 18:00 on August 19 after Slovakia agreed to turn off its x-ray scanning device at the Uzhhorod-Maťovce customs checkpoint, the use of which Slovakia’s eastern neighbour objected to by saying it caused unhealthy exposure of its railway employees to radiation. Ukraine halted its trains from moving across the border at 18:00 on August 18.
Slovakia reasoned that if it did not stop using the device the country and several major industrial operations would have risked huge financial losses caused by the suspension of Ukrainian cargo crossing the border.
The Ukrainian state-run railway said that the scanner used by the Slovak customs authority endangers the health of its employees. The Slovak Transport Ministry has said that the claims are unfounded and that the device is harmless to employees’ health; it has requested Slovakia’s diplomatic corps to get involved in the settlement of the dispute.
The suspension of cargo transportation was causing concern among businesses and some observers had already dubbed it a “mini gas crisis” referring to earlier in 2009 when Slovakia’s economy was brought to an almost complete stop when Russia turned off its gas taps to central Europe over a dispute with Ukraine over prices and unpaid bills.
U.S. Steel Kosice and power producer Slovenské Elektrárne were among the companies that were most affected by the interrupted supplies of coal, iron ore and chemical products, according to daily Sme.
Slovakia’s rail freight company, ZSSK Cargo Slovakia, offered the Ukrainian railway that Slovak staff and locomotives would operate the trains on the stretch in which the engines and railcars are scanned but Ukraine did not respond.
Local media have speculated that mafia organisations involved in smuggling are behind the action of the Ukrainian railway company because the scanning device can detect attempts to smuggle goods like cigarettes, alcohol and other products across the border.
The spokesman for the Transport Ministry, Stanislav Jurikovič, told the SITA newswire that the scanner at the Ukrainian border is a standard device situated at all railway entry points into the Schengen zone and functions just like x-ray devices used at airports.
Slovak authorities have been saying that their priority was to get cargo transportation moving across the border as soon as possible.
“The situation will be discussed at an international level,” Jurikovič told the Sme daily on August 18.
The European Commission has not yet commented on the situation. The disagreement between Slovakia and Ukraine has been simmering for several weeks after the Ukrainian railway company did not accept the results of a review of the scanning equipment performed by a joint commission.
Jurikovič said that Slovakia has suggested to Ukraine that it request a recognised body, such as the International Agency for Atomic Energy based in Vienna, to prepare an independent report, Sme wrote.