Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 180

Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves resigned his post yesterday, citing political sniping and intrusion into foreign policy by the governing parties as the reasons for his resignation. Prime Minister Mart Siimann’s Coalition Party and its partner, the Country People’s Alliance, had questioned Ilves’s political loyalty to the government after Ilves created a new party that in effect aligned itself with the opposition (BNS, September 30).

Ilves, 44 years old, born to Estonian refugees in the West, worked as an analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Research Institute in Munich and headed RFE/RL’s Estonian broadcasting service. He was Estonia’s ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 1996 and succeeded Siim Kallas as foreign minister in November 1996. In that post, Ilves achieved agreements on visa-free travel with the Nordic countries and led Estonia’s successful effort to be placed on the fast track of accession negotiations with the European Union, ahead of the other two Baltic states.

An active promoter of Baltic efforts to join NATO, Ilves recently urged the alliance to overcome ambivalence and demonstrate greater consistency of purpose regarding its eastward enlargement (see the Monitor, September 22). In Moscow, Ilves touched a raw nerve with an offhand, oft-quoted comment that Russian policy toward the Baltic states suffers from “post-colonial stress.” In fact, Ilves strove to improve relations with Russia, not the least in order to remove reservations in the West about engagement in the Baltic region. Moscow, only too aware of that linkage, kept political relations with Estonia barely above the freezing point, meanwhile shifting onto Latvia the brunt of its pressure.

Ilves tops the popularity ratings of Estonia’s public figures. He is considered a strong presidential prospect after the incumbent president, Lennart Meri, serves out his second term of office. Ilves, a nonpartisan minister until this year, entered party politics recently by founding the People’s Party. The party (a successor to the Right Wingers) intends to contest the March 1999 parliamentary elections, against the “centrist” government parties, in a “rightist” bloc with Kallas’ Reform Party, the Pro-Patria Union and The Moderates.