The Border Treaty Will Become an Argument for Demanding More Concessions from Estonia, Says Lobjakas ({{commentsTotal}})

Ahto Lobjakas
Ahto Lobjakas Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

The governments of both Estonia as well as Russia seem to have decided to make sure the border treaties are ratified as fast as possible - possibly simultaneously, within a couple of months. That certainly indicates a wish to minimize all kinds of the smaller risks associated with the process, the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute's analyst Ahto Lobjakas said.

Both governments probably have the necessary majority in their parliaments. In the case of Estonia, it is perhaps more theoretical than in Russia, but at the moment, there are no foreseeable impediments to ratification. It can be assumed that public opinion is not in favor of the treaty, but even that is not certain, as there have been no polls or public discussions. This is more than strange in the case of a fundamental issue like this, but it is unlikely anything will emerge from the grass roots level before the ratification.

However, the smoothness and the rush of the endeavor so far raises more keenly the question about the current state of Estonian-Russian relations. The fast pace of the treaty process could leave the impression that it is a secondary subject, not the most fundamental issue in the relations between the two states. That impression deserves a deeper analysis.

It is of course possible that the sides are acting out of sheer practicality, only trying to get one difficult subject off the agenda. The official Russian rhetoric confirms this impression. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is already talking about the need to place commercial relations on “a firmer legal footing”. His choice of words indicates that this is the next, separate issue.

Lavrov also mentioned Russia’s conviction that Estonia is too lenient in Nazi matters and curbs the possibilities of learning in Russian in Estonia without justification. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet talked about Estonian meat and dairy exports to Russia and the wish to restore contacts at the highest level (the presidents and prime ministers have not had bilateral meetings for a long time; Russia’s top politicians do not want to travel to Estonia).

Estonia seems to think it is a cumulative process, where one step leads to another and that co-operation will improve and trust will grow as common decisions accumulate. On the other hand, Russia’s current positions leave no doubt that Moscow begins at square one with each new issue - that is to say, from a starting point that suits Russia, not Estonia.

The border treaty may make it easier to achieve visa freedom with the European Union, but it is on terms that are far more favorable for Moscow. It can be predicted that the border treaty will become an argument to be used for demanding new concessions from Estonia, starting with introducing visa-free traveling for people living in the border areas. The EU sponsors projects like these, and Russia has already taken an interest. Estonia, represented by Paet, has already rejected the idea. A broader visa freedom is a step in the same direction; pressure on the Estonian border (in terms of capacity) is more likely to increase than decrease.

In conclusion, we are one step further down the historical cycle where Russia is advancing, so to say. Not aggressively, but by placing us in front of difficult issues and choices. Where we wish to accumulate our strengths, Russia wishes to accumulate our weaknesses. Where we see a fundamental line (a border marked with a border agreement), Russia sees a much bigger picture.

Moscow is a very successful employer of a "drop by drop" strategy, undermining the strengths and maximizing the weaknesses of its neighbors. Prewar and postwar Georgia is a good example. The border treaty will not solve our weaknesses, such as the immigrants that have still not been integrated.

On a governmental level, Estonia seems to assume that Russia is a state that understands international law in the same way and that contracts made with Russia have a timeless and certain guarantee. That is one possible answer to the question about which protects us more; the treaty or our historical experiences. The other possible answer would originate from the fact that the line between the countries has long existed and in reality, is working without disagreements. However, endorsing it officially with a treaty takes away another possibility for both Estonia and Russia to revisit the Tartu Treaty and reduces its relevancy by narrowing its scope and diminishing its authority.

The article is a translation originally published on Tuesday on uudised.err.ee.