Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 122

Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paet signed a border treaty with Moscow.

On June 20, a special session of the Estonian parliament ratified the Russia-Estonia treaty that defines the border between the two countries. Ministers of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Urmas Paet had signed the treaty on May 18 in Moscow after nearly a decade of Russian procrastination. The Estonian ratification bill passed with 78 in favor, four opposed, and 19 not voting in the 101-seat parliament. At least 68 votes were required for passage. On June 22, President Arnold Ruutel promulgated the law on ratification of the border treaty, completing a process whereby Estonia accepts the existing border with Russia.

Thus, Russia obtains confirmation of its possession of two areas it took from Estonia and attached to the Russian SFSR during the occupation era: the town and environs of Iaanilinn (now Ivangorod, opposite Narva) and the district of Petseri (Pechory, now in Pskov region). These areas made up 5% of Estonia’s territory prior to the occupation.

Nevertheless, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on June 21 that it would not forward the treaty to the Duma for ratification and proceeded to assail Estonia for the preamble that the parliament attached to the ratification law. The preamble makes reference to the legal continuity of the Estonian state proclaimed in 1918 and its constitution, the uninterrupted validity of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty between Russia and Estonia (a legal cornerstone of Estonia’s state continuity), the 1991 restoration of Estonia’s state independence, and the parliament’s 1992 declaration of the reestablishment of the constitutional order. The preamble further states that, while the border treaty partly modifies the 1920 treaty-fixed boundary, it does not affect the validity of the Tartu treaty, nor does it predetermine the handling of any bilateral issues unrelated to the border treaty.

That preamble has drawn vituperations from Lavrov, his ministry’s chief spokesman Alexander Yakovenko, the Duma’s and Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee chairmen Konstantin Kosachev and Mikhail Margelov, and other Moscow officials. Politically, they object to the Estonian parliament’s references to the 1991 and 1992 documents that mention the “Soviet aggression against Estonia in 1940,” “illegal annexation,” and “decades of occupation.” Those formulations are not included or cited in the Estonian parliament’s June 20, 2005, document. But its mere reference to the earlier documents that include those formulations seems beyond official Moscow’s capacity to come to terms with its history.

On the legal level, Moscow continues to insist that the Tartu Peace Treaty “lost its validity” and that the 1940 “events” meant that Estonia (and Latvia and Lithuania) “joined” the Soviet Union legally. Russia does not recognize the legal continuity of the Baltic states during their de facto incorporation into the Soviet Union. At the moment, the Russian government seems intent to retaliate against Estonia’s reassertion of the state’s legal continuity as reflected in the Estonian parliament’s preamble to the law on ratification of the border treaty. Thus, the Russian government refuses to forward the treaty for ratification by the Duma.

The refusal has no valid legal grounds, however. The Duma would be asked to ratify the treaty as signed, not the preamble to Estonia’s ratification law. That preamble is a unilateral Estonian document, of a type that many countries routinely attach to bilateral or multilateral treaties, without prejudice to implementation of treaties. Moreover — as Estonian government and parliamentary officials are carefully pointing out — the preamble contains no reservations toward the border treaty’s terms, no demands of any kind, and no conditions for the treaty’s implementation as signed with the Russian side.

Thus, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and parliamentary officials’ accusations that the preamble paves the way toward Estonian territorial claims on Russia can only be seen as part of Moscow’s continuing political campaign against Estonia and the Baltic states overall. For their part Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States have welcomed the Estonian parliament’s ratification of the border treaty and expressed hopes that Russia would follow suit.

The border treaty had been initialed in 1996 and reconfirmed by initialing in 1999, its content fully approved by the Russian side in all details. The treaty consists of two documents, defining the border on land and in the Narva estuary and Gulf of Finland, respectively. However, Russia stonewalled the signing, as it did on the 1997-initialed Russia-Latvia border treaty. Moscow miscalculated that the absence of border agreements could impede those countries’ admission to NATO and the European Union. The situation changed with the Baltic states’ accession to NATO and the EU in 2004, when the Estonia-Russia and Latvia-Russia borders became part of the EU-Russia border.

(BNS, Interfax, June 20-23; see EDM, May 2, 20)