MOSCOW’S NEW AMBASSADOR TO ESTONIA IN A FIGHTING MOOD.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 5

Russia’s newly appointed ambassador, Konstantin Provalov, presented Estonia with a long bill of indictment on the very day of his arrival, January 5, before taking up his official duties. According to Provalov, “relations are marked by obviously negative tendencies” owing to “a series of steps by the Estonian side to aggravate the relations.” In three interviews with Estonian- and Russian-language media in Tallinn, Provalov proffered various charges against Estonia, most of which can be read as applicable, from Moscow’s standpoint, to all three Baltic states.

–Estonia takes an “overly negativist view of the half-century of our life under a common roof” [in the Soviet Union].

–Accession to NATO “would destroy the chances for [Russian-Estonian] cooperation.”

–Tallinn “acted strangely” in asking that the Estonian-Russian draft commercial agreement be made compatible with European Union requirements. Estonia should, instead, treat agreements with Russia as a purely bilateral matter.

–Estonia’s introduction [conforming with European Union (EU) rules] of visa requirements for residents of border areas was the latest in the series of “obvious attempts to spoil our relations” and even amounts to a “visa war” against Russia.

–The Estonian state “denies legal registration” to the local branch of the Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate.

–Russia “worries about the situation of non-Estonian communities in Estonia” and objects to the ongoing judicial proceedings against Pyotr Rozhok and Oleg Morozov [pro-Soviet activists in Tallinn]. To underscore those concerns, Moscow will not sign the interstate agreement on borders and will not exempt Estonia from double taxation of her exports to Russia until Estonia changes her policy toward “Russian-speakers.”

–The Estonian side “organized a deliberate provocation by expelling two Russian diplomats” [last year, on accusations of espionage,] in spite of warnings that the move would “inflict serious and lasting damage to [bilateral] relations.”

The ambassador’s remark on the period of Russian-Soviet rule reflects a hardening of Moscow’s position since Vladimir Putin became president of Russia. Prior to that, Moscow claimed for the record that the three Baltic states had voluntarily and legally joined the Soviet Union. Now, however, Moscow seems additionally to suggest that its rule was not necessarily or uniformly “negative.” This adjusted position emerged in a parting-shot statement last November by Moscow’s outgoing ambassador to Estonia, Aleksandr Glukhov, who claimed that the Soviet period in Estonia had had its redeeming features.

Criticism of Estonia for adhering to the EU’s requirements on commercial and visa agreements confirms recent indications that Moscow seeks a voice in matters concerning the three Baltic states’ relations with the EU. Moscow does not oppose the Baltic states’ goal of joining that body, but wants Russia’s “interests” to be taken into account in shaping some of the specific terms of the Baltic states’ accession to it.

On the Orthodox Church issue, Provalov purports to ignore the fact that Estonia does offer legal registration to the Russian Church’s local branch, but not as the legal successor of the pre-occupation Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC). That church, wiped out by the occupation authorities in Estonia, has reestablished itself in the country on the basis of legal continuity, also restoring its canonical affiliation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. However, the Moscow Patriarchate’s church in Estonia insists on being recognized as the legal successor to the EAOC.

Provalov’s remarks on the ethnic issue in Estonia serve as a signal to Latvia as well. They suggest that Moscow will try to raise that issue as a perennial irritant, in spite of last year’s conclusive assessments by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU and other international authorities–as well as the Western governments–that Estonia and Latvia adhere to international standards regarding the treatment of ethnic minorities.

Moscow seems not to realize that it has overplayed its hand in linking the interstate border agreements to ethnic issues in Estonia and Latvia. Those documents have long been initialed, but Moscow withholds its signature–and, in the case of Lithuania, withholds the ratification–in the hope of interfering with the Baltic states’ progress toward admission to the EU and NATO. However, Western countries have recognized the fact that the three Baltic states have done everything that depended on them in negotiating the border agreements, and that it is now up to Russia to sign and ratify the documents.

A new twist in Moscow’s view of NATO’s enlargement may contain the key, not only to Provalov’s series of statements but to Russia’s Baltic policy before the second enlargement round of the alliance. Hoping to head off that round in the Baltic region, Moscow will probably dwell on the three points which Provalov underscored in his statements.

First, that it objects primarily to NATO as presently constituted and its attitudes toward Russia, and only derivatively to the Baltic states’ accession. “NATO’s present political and military views ignore, and in some cases clash with, Russia’s security interests. The accession of the Baltic states, Russia’s close neighbors, to an alliance of such views would amount to a challenge to Russia’s security.” This argument would seem to hold out a potentially divisive and debilitating bait to NATO: Moscow might accept Baltic accession to it on some special, soft, negotiable and ultimately “second-class” terms.

The second counterargument, as Provalov presented it, envisages the UN–specifically, its Security Council, in which Russia has veto power–as a guarantor of security in the Baltic region. The third is the familiar brandishing of the stick of “increased Russian military deployments along the Western border”–implying the Baltic region and Poland–to offset or even prevent the Baltic states’ accession to NATO (Postimees, January 5; Molodyozh Estonii, January 5; BNS, January 5-6; see the Monitor, June 13, 16, 19, 27, July 17, October 4, November 2, December 18, 2000; Fortnight in Review, October 6, November 2, 2000).

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