IS MOSCOW RESTARTING A COLD WAR WITH THE BALTS?
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 172
Interviewed in the Tallinn daily Postimees last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Toomas Ilves observed that Estonia’s steps to improve relations with Russia have had practically no effect on Moscow’s policy. That observation rests on ample evidence.
Four years ago, Estonia agreed to drop the articles objectionable to Moscow from the bilateral border treaty. Russia initialed the document in November 1996, but has ever since refused to sign it, apparently hoping to complicate Estonia’s relations with the European Union. President Vladimir Putin misleadingly told Western leaders, during two summits held this year, that Estonia has “territorial claims” on Russia. That allegation was termed “unwarranted by the facts, to put it mildly” by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott–an extremely serious statement in diplomatic terminology (see the Monitor, June 13). Estonia’s far-reaching liberalization of the citizenship legislation has not led to any letup in Moscow’s accusations that Estonia violates the rights of Russians there. Russia taxes the goods imported from Estonia at double the rate applicable to most other countries.
“Whatever we do or don’t do, Russia’s policy does not change, and will not change until Russia on her own decides to seek improved relations with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” Ilves concluded. He predicted that “if Russia keeps threatening others while her own infrastructure is collapsing,” it will no longer be reckoned with as a great power, but simply as a source of instability and of heightened concern to neighboring countries.
Moscow probably felt equally stung by Ilves’ review of Estonia’s active relations with countries that have opted out of Russia’s orbit. Estonia is currently sharing her highly successful “Tiger’s Leap” national computerization strategy with Ukraine and Georgia, helps train Georgian border guards and has provided the model of currency reform to the pro-Western government of Bulgaria. Fortuitously, the publication of the interview coincided with Estonia’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats for espionage and tit-for-tat expulsion of two Estonian diplomats from Russia.
On September 16, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement insisting that Estonia has “territorial claims” on Russia, misquoting an Estonian parliamentary deputy as having urged armed support for Chechen “terrorism,” and attacking the Pro Patria Union–the party of Prime Minister Mart Laar–for its stated intent to seek Russian recognition of the fact of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States, “in spite of Russia’s well known position on this matter.” That position–recently reaffirmed by the Russian government–holds that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania “joined” the Soviet Union “at their request” and in a “legal” manner (see the Monitor, May 5, 12, June 19, 27; Fortnight in Review, May 12, 26, June 23). Pro Patria’s proposal is in fact symbolic, supportive of a Lithuanian initiative and confined to the Baltic Assembly–an interparliamentary body with moral authority but no real powers. Pro Patria’s proposal, while legally invulnerable, does not constitute government policy.
Moscow’s statement, furthermore, reproached Estonia for “imposing” visa regulations at the Estonian-Russian border in spite of Russia’s objections. The introduction of such regulations, however, is required by the European Union of countries seeking accession. Moscow’s objections to that requirement look like an attempt at interfering with Estonia’s accession process.
In a parallel statement, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry accused Estonia and Latvia of violating the rights of Russians in the two countries. That demarche took advantage of the Moscow visit of Max van der Stoel, High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Van der Stoel’s visit this time focused on the situation of Ukrainians in Russia and Russians in Ukraine. The Russian government, however, pointed accusatory fingers at the Balts as well. Claiming that Estonia and Latvia were “ostentatiously ignoring” international recommendations on ethnic minority rights, the Moscow officials called for international intercession. Yet none other than van der Stoel–as well as other OSCE bodies, the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United States government and other international authorities–have in recent weeks reaffirmed their approval of recent Latvian and Estonian legislation on language and citizenship. Official Moscow appears to feign ignorance of that fact. Postimees, September 12; BNS, Itar-Tass, September 15-16).
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