Greece's Foreign Ministry has summoned the Estonian Ambassador to Greece, Margus Rava, over the remarks Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves allegedly made in an interview given to The Times newspaper. It later emerged, however, that president's words were wrongly attributed to him by the journalist who conducted the interview.
Greek foreign ministry said in a statement that the ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday to be served with a démarche, protesting the “unreasonable and offensive statements regarding Greece” that were made by Ilves in an interview with The Times.
The Times had previously written that Ilves railed against President Putin's "useful idiots" within the European Union, such as Greece, Italy, Hungary and Cyprus, who are pressing for an easing of economic sanctions against Russia – and according to Ilves, disrupting the unity of the bloc.
“Such characterizations are incompatible with European political culture and the level of relations and contacts between two allies and partners such as Greece and Estonia,” Greece's foreign ministry said in a statement, released before the Estonian President's office issued an announcement which made it clear that Ilves did not use the term to describe Greece or any other country.
Ilves's words misinterpreted
Toomas Hendrik Ilves rejected The Times interpretation and said that he had been misquoted, tweeting on Wednesday evening that the journalist had admitted on “mixing things up”.
The official statement by President's office on Thursday clearly dismissed the claims that Ilves had gone on the offensive against Greeks and stated that Ilves had not used an offensive term for any country, as has been attributed to him. "During the interview President Ilves expressed his concern over the extremist political forces in the EU who prioritize personal financial and economic interests over the common EU values. The journalist admitted that it was his assumption [using “useful idiots” description in the article] and his purpose was to reflect a wider debate within the EU, rather than the words of the President," the statement said.
Roger Boyes, the journalist at The Times who conducted the interview, told ERR News that Ilves did use the term "useful idiots", but there was ambiguity about it. "On reflection he could have been referring more generally to far-right groupings or to lobbyists who reach a special accomodation with Vladimir Putin. The President did not single out Greece or Cyprus - that was my interpretation. He was careful, even statesmanlike in not naming countries. He said: "I can't really talk about countries or names but you can make the deductions." That was what I did and I'm sorry if the phrasing suggested that he was directly and explicitly pointing the finger at fellow EU states. They were mentioned merely to supply context."
The Times' story also prompted a reaction from Russian authorities. Alexei Puskov, the head of the Russian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday that Ilves's pronouncement “will not help to accelerate the Estonia-Russia border treaty ratification process”.
“I believe that if Mr Ilves was interested in getting the border treaty ratified as soon as possible, he would think twice before making such statements. Obviously, we have to take note of this, as it creates a different kind of atmosphere. Parliament members, who have to vote to ratify the treaty, have emotions – and not only in the Estonian Parliament,” Puskov said.
In The Times interview, Ilves was mainly talking about the potential Russian cyber attack against the Baltic states, arguing that NATO had to be prepared not only for conventional or nuclear attacks, but also for an assault on its computers. Ilves also said that in case of Russian cyber attack, it should be countered by a comprehensive NATO military response.
Estonia was targeted by Russian cyber attack in 2007, in what is believed to have been the first of its kind in the world.
Editor: S. Tambur