On June 27, merely six weeks after signing the border treaty with Estonia, Russia announced that it is revoking its signature, withdrawing from any obligations stipulated in that treaty, and demanding renegotiation from scratch. Those points are contained in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs note, made public that day, along with Ministry comments emphasizing, “Under international law, the issue of delimitation of Russian and Estonian territories remains an open one” (Interfax, June 27, 28). The move also signifies a slap to the European Union, since the Estonia-Russia border forms a part of the EU-Russia border.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed the border treaty with his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet in Moscow on May 18, the Estonian parliament ratified it on June 20, and on June 22 Estonian President Arnold Ruutel promulgated it. However, on June 21 Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to forward the treaty to the Duma for ratification. It vehemently criticized the Estonian ratification law’s preamble, which makes references to the Estonian state’s uninterrupted legal continuity during the Soviet occupation. Moscow demanded that Estonia give up that preamble in order to have the treaty ratified by Russia. But it did not threaten to cancel the treaty.
A week later, however, Moscow took the escalatory step of discarding the treaty altogether. According to Lavrov, it did so in order to prevent the European Union from interceding with Russia to ratify the treaty. There is no treaty to ratify now, Lavrov gloated in mocking the EU: “They in the EU might have succumbed to the temptation of telling us, well, Estonia has ratified it, even if adding references to ‘occupation,’ ‘aggression,’ ‘unlawful annexation,’ but ratified it anyway … so please show a bit of patience and ratify it on your side, also with some interpretations attached, so that the treaty can enter into force. To stop the EU from falling into this temptation, we have withdrawn our signature. There will be no treaty” (Interfax, RIA, June 27, 28).
Chastising Estonia for “equating [Soviet] liberators to occupiers,” Lavrov argued, “It was the Soviet people’s victory that gave [Estonians today] the opportunity to play these games and, in general, to speak freely” (Russian TV First Channel, June 27).
The Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee Chairman, Mikhail Margelov, blamed “Estonia’s nationalist and isolationist voters and their representatives in power” for causing the Estonian parliament to attach the preamble to the ratification law. Margelov used those epithets in the knowledge that the ratification law had passed overwhelmingly with 78 in favor, four opposed, 19 not voting in the Estonian parliament, reflecting a political consensus in the country. The Estonian-ratified border treaty actually confirms Russia’s possession of territory taken from Estonia during the occupation.
The Duma’s International Affairs Committee Chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, had initially suggested that the chamber could ratify the border treaty despite the preamble to Estonia’s ratification law. That document — Kosachev had pointed out — did not affect the treaty itself, and could in any case be matched by a unilateral Duma statement as part of Russia’s ratification (Interfax, June 21). Now, however, Kosachev rushed to fall into line, on the government’s cue: “The Committee, and the Duma in its entirety, unconditionally and unreservedly support the government’s and MFA’s resolute position.” Estonia “just did not want to behave in a civilized manner,” he declared (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, June 27). The contention that the three Baltic states are “uncivilized” has figured with increasing frequency in Russia’s high-level official discourse this year.
Replying to Russia’s diplomatic note, Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed the hope that Moscow will once more analyze the Estonian ratification law, and then initiate the procedure of Russian ratification of the border treaty. The Estonian Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Toomas Ilves, and other EP deputies have asked the EU to take a stand in response Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature from the border treaty with Estonia. The request points out that Estonia’s border with Russia is at the same time the external border of EU, that Estonia needs the EU’s support on the issue, and that the entire EU is negatively affected by Russia’s unilateral decision (BNS, June 28, 30; see EDM, May 2, 20, June 24).