Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 72

On April 8, Russia’s embassy in Tallinn hosted a general meeting of “representatives of the Russian-speaking population” of Estonia. Leaders of political, economic, cultural and other types of groups attended the meeting at the invitation of Ambassador Aleksei Glukhov to plan the creation of an all-encompassing structure. As the ambassador described it, that structure would represent the interests of “the entire spectrum of all those who consider themselves as compatriots of Russia,” irrespective of their citizenship status, and the Russian embassy will perform the “task of assisting that structure in its work.”

Describing the membership of the desired structure, Glukhov used interchangeably the terms “Russian” in the ethnic sense (russkie), “Russian” in the legal or political sense (rossiiskie), “Russian-speakers” and “compatriots.” As a legal basis for sponsoring such a structure in Estonia, Glukhov cited an internal Russian act–namely, the “law on the state policy of the Russian Federation with regard to compatriots abroad,” which was passed by the Duma in May 1999. He disclaimed any intention to “interfere” in the affairs of the Russian community in Estonia. He did not issue such a disclaimer with regard to the host country (Itar-Tass, April 8).

The 1999 act, resembling a declaration of intent more than a law, defines the concept of “Russian compatriots” so elastically as to make possible its political manipulation. That act was ignored by Russia’s executive branch during the remainder of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. The step just taken by Russia’s embassy in Estonia would seem to suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s government is prepared to resuscitate and use the 1999 “law” in trying to justify a more intrusive policy toward the Baltic states.

The approach inherent in that law was forcefully restated by Dmitry Rogozin in his inaugural pronouncement as chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the new Duma. Like Glukhov–and in common with Russian hardliners at home– Rogozin used alternately the terms “our compatriots,” “Russian citizens,” “ethnic Russians,” “Russian-speakers,” “Russian subjects” and “Russian diasporas.” Those terms and the groups to which they may apply are, however, quite distinct in fact and in the eyes of the international and national laws. Interchangeable use of those terms can result in expanding almost at will the range of groups which may be declared eligible for Russia’s “protection” (see the Monitor, February 10; the Fortnight in Review, February 18).

Under Yeltsin’s presidency and during Putin’s months as acting president, Russia attempted to work through international organizations and manipulate international covenants in attacking the Baltic states’ treatment of their Russian populations. More recently, however, Moscow seems to realize that it has overplayed its hand doing that. Its denunciations of Latvia’s language law were brushed aside as lacking merit.

On April 10, Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov expressed “disappointment” with the replies of his Western counterparts to Ivanov’s recent letters to them on the issue of “human rights” in Latvia and Estonia (RIA, April 10). Ivanov’s letters–of which the “Dear Madeleine” letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was made public in Lithuania–had misrepresented Latvia’s and Estonia’s internal policies, including the situation of local Russians (see the Monitor, March 23). The action of the Russian embassy in Tallinn suggests that Putin’s Moscow will from now on place a greater emphasis on unilateral actions and more intrusive political support to “compatriot” groups in the Baltic states.

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions