Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 86

Tallinn is trying hard to defuse the crisis by initiating a political dialogue with Moscow. To start a dialogue at the parliamentary level, the Estonian Parliament’s Chairwoman, Ene Ergma, invited a Russian delegation, headed by the Duma’s Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Nikolai Kovalyov, to Estonia during April 30-May 1. General (ret.) Kovalyov is identified as the head of the FSB from 1996 to 1998, the immediate predecessor to Vladimir Putin in that post.

Kovalyov and the delegation’s second-in-command, Leonid Slutsky — first vice-chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee — publicly demanded the return of the Red Army monument to downtown Tallinn, the resignation of Estonia’s government, and a criminal investigation into the “repression” of rioters, whom the delegation leaders characterized as “anti-fascists.” They voiced these demands through the mass media while boarding the plane in Moscow for Tallinn and again during their meeting with Russian journalists in the Russian embassy in Tallinn. The demand for government change reminded Estonians of Moscow’s proconsuls unseating and installing Baltic governments in the past. Kovalyov and Slutsky replied dialectically that it was Estonia’s right to form a government and their right to call for the government to be changed.

On May 1, a local Russian crowd assembled around the Russian embassy and cultural center in Tallinn to demand a change of government. Following the meeting with the Kovalev-Slutsky delegation in the embassy, local Russian activists called for continuing anti-government protests.

Thus, Tallinn’s conciliatory gesture backfired. Following the demands for government change, the Estonian government could not possibly receive the Russian delegation. Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet and other Estonian officials cancelled the scheduled appointments with a delegation that, as Paet noted, spread mendacious propaganda and interfered brazenly in Estonia’s internal political affairs. Nevertheless, Estonian Defense Ministry officials acquainted the Russian delegation with the planned transfer of the Bronze Soldier from downtown Tallinn to a military cemetery outside the city where Estonian, Soviet, German, and British soldiers from several wars of the twentieth century lie buried.

In Moscow, the Estonian embassy is under siege continuously since April 27 by some 200 activists of the Kremlin-sponsored youth organizations Nashi and Molodaya Gvardiya (“Ours” and “Young Guard”) as well as the youth branch of the United Russia party of power. The siege began one day after Estonian President Toomas Ilves stayed at the embassy while attending Boris Yeltsin’s funeral in Moscow. The police are allowing those activists to daub the embassy’s outer walls with paint and hostile slogans, play loud Soviet military music 24 hours a day, and control or interdict the entry of visitors. The embassy staff is locked inside amid threats against their safety. On May 1, a protester tore off the Estonian flag from the embassy’s nine meter high flagpole (embassy staff managed to hoist another flag). The Kremlin-appointed “Nashi” leader Vasily Yakemenko is taking time off from the Estonian embassy siege to appear on Channel One and other TV programs.

Since April 30, picket leaders are publicly threatening to “dismantle” the Estonian embassy building and urging the Russian public via mass media to join in the “dismantling.” They name a symbolic date for such an operation — May 9, the Soviet anniversary of victory against “fascism” — Moscow police, which had brutally attacked the Other Russia peaceful demonstrations the preceding week, is now watching the siege of the Estonian embassy passively. Estonia has sent three diplomatic notes to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calling for a stop to these multiple violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. However, the Russian MFA is turning a blind eye and could perhaps not be expected to stop actions directed from the Kremlin through its pet youth groups.

Russian state television channels persist with inflammatory distortions of the April 27-29 violent riots of Russian youth in Tallinn. Such coverage is designed not only for domestic consumption but also for stirring up inter-ethnic tensions in Estonia. Omitting or barely mentioning the drunken rampage and plunder, the channels transfigure the events into political protests against Estonian “fascism” and accuse Estonian authorities of resorting to brutality against Russians. They describe arrested rioters as victims of “political repression” and, more broadly, as militants against “discrimination of Russians.”

Leading officially-approved commentators are casting the events as a test of Russia’s national strength, defense of Russian history, and continuing fight against “fascism.” Other Russian views are very rarely heard. Estonian views are cited even more rarely, and then usually framed in a derogatory or sneering manner.

(BNS, Interfax, Itar-Tass, Russian Television Channel One, April 28-May 1; BBC Monitoring, Russian TV and radio highlights, April 30-May 1; see EDM, January 15, March 26, April 27, May 1)