At his end-of-year press conference yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin caught a Russian-speaking Estonian journalist off guard when he said "Tere-tere," then adding "Vana kere."
The Estonian rhyming couplet translates as "Hello-hello, old boy."
The moment caused some excitement in the Estonian media, with journalists and Internet commenters quick to point out that the journalist appeared unfamiliar with the Estonian expression.
The journalist's question concerned Russia's "compatriots policy," a controversial subject in Estonia that counterintelligence officials have identified as a potential national security threat. The program offers financial assistance to people with Russian roots who want to move back to Russia, but it has not been very successful, in part due to underfunding.
The journalist, Paldiski Radio editor in chief Oleg Tesla, asked what could be done to make the program more effective, considering that it would take "100 years" to bring back even half of the 30 million Russians living outside the Russian Federation.
Putin said in response that Russia will continue to fight for the rights of Russian-speaking minority communities abroad. He singled out the Baltics for their large number of Russian-speaking residents without citizenship. The "non-citizen," he said, was an "absolutely uncivilized concept."
Putin reproached the European Union for tollerating such circumstances, but ruled out any kind of use of force, saying that was nonsense.