Responding to Russia’s bullying of Estonia (see EDM, April 27, May 1, 3) the U.S. White House has invited Estonian President Toomas Ilves to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on June 25 in Washington. The invitation itself, and the announcement’s timing in May, is the strongest demonstration of support for Estonia against Russia’s escalating threats since April 26. Estonia’s presidential office as well as the ambassador to the United States, Juri Luik, remarked that the invitation validates Estonia’s policy choices: democracy and freedom as Western values at home, participation in NATO-led peacekeeping missions, and assistance to countries in the European Union’s eastern neighborhood.
Bush and Ilves last met in late November 2006 in Tallinn, two months after Ilves’ election as president. The scheduling of another presidential meeting only six months after the first, particularly with a small country, is a highly unusual move by the White House, signaling U.S. backing for Estonia all the more clearly in the present crisis.
On May 3, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Ilves to welcome the latter’s May 2 speech (see EDM, May 3), in which Ilves clearly differentiated between the relatively few Russian rioters and the great majority of Russian citizens of Estonia. Rice condemned the siege of the Estonian embassy in Moscow and the cyber attacks by Russia on Estonian state institutions as “unacceptable pressures on a sovereign country.”
Speaking at the May 5 commemoration of a U.S. diplomat killed by the Soviet military while over flying Estonia in 1940, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns noted that free Estonia’s sovereignty is once again under attack. The entire U.S. government regards Estonia as a friend and ally and respects Estonia’s right to make its decisions independently in a free country, Burns noted. These unprecedently strong statements seem designed to discourage Russian escalation and adventurism in Estonia.
On May 2 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning the riots in Estonia and attacks on Estonian embassies and supporting Estonia’s right to deal with internal matters, such as the relocation of the Red Army monument from Tallinn.
Also on May 2, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed support for Estonia in a telephone call to Ilves. The NATO leader underscored that relocation of monuments or grave markers is an internal matter of a sovereign country; and that the Russian authorities’ propaganda campaign as well as cyber attacks targeting Estonian government institutions constitute unacceptable interference into Estonia’s internal affairs. De Hoop Scheffer added his personal support to the alliance’s collective demand that Russian authorities must immediately lift the siege of Estonia’s embassy in Moscow, end their violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and provide security for Estonian diplomats.
In a collective statement issued in Brussels on May 3, NATO expressed deep concern over threats to the physical safety of Estonian embassy staff in Moscow. The alliance called on Russian authorities to “cease those unacceptable actions forthwith” and abide by their obligations under the Vienna Convention.
While de Hoop Scheffer’s call recognized the gravity of Russia’s comprehensive violations of Estonia’s sovereignty and stood unambiguously by the allied country, the collective statement of NATO failed to do so. Apparently reflecting the position of those governments that also set the tone of the European Union’s policy in this crisis, NATO’s collective statement only focused on the situation around Estonia’s Moscow embassy, all but ignoring the assault on Estonia itself and implying that it was a matter of bilateral Russia-Estonia relations. By failing to stand up clearly for a threatened ally, those European governments risk undermining NATO’s and the EU’s credibility.
Coincidentally, an Estonian infantry company, ordnance disposal team, and national support element, totaling some 120 troops, left for Afghanistan as long scheduled on May 3-4 to serve as part of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. They are replacing the Estonian units of equivalent size that have operated there in the last six months. Estonian troops serve in southern Afghanistan since 2006 as part of a Dutch-led brigade within a British-led battle group. Estonian troops have taken part in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan since 2003. While Estonia performs as a loyal NATO member, some other allies flinch both from deploying troops to southern Afghanistan and from standing up politically for Estonia’s sovereignty vis-à-vis Russia in the present crisis. The German government is the prime flincher on both counts.
The governments and parliaments of Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Finland, and Sweden have supported Estonia from the outset of Russia’s bullying campaign and continue expressing their support as the crisis unfolds. Finland’s Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva have publicly objected to Moscow’s interference in Estonia’s internal affairs and sought unsuccessfully to insert some spine into the European Union’s and its German presidency’s positions.
Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus, Parliament Chairman Viktoras Muntianas, Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Petras Vaitekunas have all maintained contact with their Estonian counterparts throughout the crisis and issued statements of strong support for Estonia. The Lithuanian government furnished police shields, helmets, batons, and other crowd control equipment on an emergency basis to Estonia’s under-equipped police. Lithuania’s parliament adopted a statement by which it “identifies with the position of Estonia” on relocating the Red Army monument, handling of the riots in Tallinn, rejecting Russian politicians’ interference in Estonia’s internal affairs, and demanding an end to the blockade of Estonia’s Moscow embassy.
Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks and Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis (in that order) issued solidarity statements equating Estonia’s right to take sovereign decisions with Latvia’s own right to do so. The Latvian parliament’s draft declaration of support is being delayed (though it can not be blocked) by a mainly Russian opposition party through procedural maneuvers. Polish President Lech Kaczynski made several supportive telephone calls to Ilves during the crisis while also trying to impress on an indifferent EU that “Estonia must not be left to stand alone.”
Georgian Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze made a solidarity call on May 3 to her Estonian counterpart, Ene Ergma, who in turn compared Moscow’s political and economic pressures on Estonia with those on Georgia. Their similar situation has drawn the two countries even closer together, Ergma and Burjanadze concluded. On May 7, President Ilves begins a three-day visit to Georgia, with the stated goal to “demonstrate that Georgia is not alone, that it has friends.“ Ilves’ decision to go ahead with the visit at this time demonstrates, first, confidence in the capacity of Estonia’s government and society to weather the Russia-orchestrated crisis; and, second, resolve to continue promoting the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgia and other countries eastward of NATO and the EU.
(BNS, April 27-May 5)