Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 87

Estonian President Toomas Ilves

The violent rioting by several thousand Russian youths in Estonia on April 27-29 obscures the larger fact that hundreds of thousands of Russians in the country have not in any way become involved in illegal behavior or political protests, despite continuing incitement from Moscow.

Although many local Russians in various age groups identify in some way with the Soviet Union and resent the relocation of the Red Army monument from downtown Tallinn, a larger number — including some of the Soviet-nostalgic ones — by now link their future with Estonia and Europe. The Kremlin seeks to reverse that correlation in order to destabilize Estonia and is conducting a political assault against it, as part of Russia’s tactics to fragment the European Union into first- and second-class countries.

Estonia takes the position that the relocation of the Bronze Soldier monument and law enforcement against violent rioting are matters for Estonia to handle, while Russia’s coordinated offensive against Estonian sovereignty is an international matter that by definition requires an EU response.

Addressing the country on May 1, President Toomas Ilves used his trademark term, “our compatriots,” with reference to Russians in Estonia. This usage turns the tables on Moscow’s peculiar use of the term “compatriots” [sootechestvenniki], which implies a right of manipulative “protection” of Russians in the Baltics and other former Soviet-ruled countries. As president of Estonia, Ilves takes the position that local Russians are the compatriots of Estonians, rather than the Kremlin’s.

Thanking the great majority among local Russians “for being on Estonia’s side, on the side of order and public safety,” Ilves expressed confidence in his address that “Estonians and Russians are not as naïve as to allow the hate-mongers to manipulate us against each other.” By the same token, however, Estonia shall handle all illegal actions “without hesitation in accordance with the law.” The president reminded Russia, “It is not European behavior to demand the resignation of the democratically elected government of another sovereign country, to use government computers for cyber-attacks against another government, or to violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by threatening the embassy of a small country. These are the ways of countries somewhere else, not in Europe.”

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip summed up the government’s position regarding the Red Army monument in his May 2 address to the parliament. Ansip characterized the monument as divisive of society: symbolizing occupation and mass repression in the eyes of the majority while gratifying the nostalgia of another section of society for a totalitarian state that has disappeared. Relocated outside the city to a military cemetery, the monument takes on a different meaning as a memorial to those killed in war, rather than an obtrusive reminder of Estonia’s subjugation.

Ansip’s speech to parliament as well as a press conference statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet described Russia’s “coordinated assault” against Estonia’s sovereignty in all aspects of that operation, continuing unabated since April 26. They listed: inflammatory propaganda via Russian state-controlled television, as part of “active measures” to destabilize Estonia; sabotage of the Estonian government’s electronic communications from Kremlin electronic servers; public calls for changing Estonia’s government, a democratically elected body; and the siege of Estonia’s Embassy in Moscow by Kremlin-sponsored youth organizations.

In view of this situation, Ansip and Paet appealed to the EU to respond appropriately, since a challenge to the sovereignty of a member country amounts to a challenge to the EU as a whole. The EU needs to “demonstrate maximum strength” for a “straightforward response to Russia’s systematic attacks” on Estonia, which in targeting Estonia are thereby also targeting the EU itself. Should Russia persist with its assault, Estonia will ask the EU to consider suspending the current negotiations with Russia [on a follow-up to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement] and to postpone the EU-Russia summit that is scheduled to be held this month (BNS, May 2).

Estonian authorities are holding dozens of suspects for pre-trial investigation, following the plunder of shops in downtown Tallinn. Rioters whom Russian state television lionized as “anti-fascist” protesters actually looted such shops as Armani and Hugo Boss, computer and camera stores, as well as bars for the liquor.

The one rioter killed during the rampage, identified as “Dmitry,” was stabbed by a fellow-rioter; stolen merchandise with price tags was found in their pockets. In Moscow, the “Nashi” movement’s Kremlin-appointed chief Vasily Yakemenko declaimed on Russian Television’s Channel One that Dmitry had “died while defending the Bronze Soldier. We are holding a memorial rally to honor the Russian hero, who died for us, who like our grandfathers died for what happened 62 years ago.” Near the besieged Estonian embassy in Moscow, Nashi and other Kremlin-sponsored demonstrators have unfurled placards inscribed with the warning, “You will answer for the death of the Russian hero.”

(BNS, Postimees, Interfax, Russian Television Channel One, May 1-2; see EDM, January 12, 26, March 9, 27, April 27, May 1, 2)