2015: The year of the unicorn
As the books finally come to a close on what can only be described as a disastrous year for East-West relations, Russia's increasingly hostile antics and looming financial implosion continue to give its nearest neighbors the jitters.
To counter the prevailing doomsday zeitgeist and generate a few rays of hope for a better new year, ERR News has tasked a team of nine crack political analysts, four North Korean hackers and a taxi driver from Jõhvi with finding a “best case scenario” for Estonian-Russian entente in 2015. The following is what they have come up with. We apologize in advance.
Putin realizes he has overplayed his hand in confrontation with the West when, seeing the writing on the economic wall, shop owners in Moscow begin pricing goods in Chinese yuan, or 'novorublya' as they call them. This development causes the Russian leader's popularity at home to slip below the 70 percent mark, an unacceptable level. With no easy target for a new invasion or wild animal photo-op to bolster his image, Putin panics and secretly looks for ways to rebuild bridges with the international community. For reasons that remain unclear, he decides to start with Estonia.
In a turn of events unforeseen even by US political scientists, Putin orders the Duma to sign the Estonian-Russian border treaty. Estonia's foreign minister, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, admits to feeling “baffled but happy,” just as she did a few weeks earlier when she learned she was going to be named foreign minister.
Putin accepts a courtesy invitation to attend Estonia's 97th anniversary festivities in Tallinn. It later comes out that an automated invitation had been sent to Russia every year since 1992. The Estonian Foreign Ministry says it had forgotten to cancel it, but is now happy it didn't. Putin, however, backs out at the last minute over what he calls “security concerns,” instead sending his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who has just returned from a stint starring in an off-Broadway production of “The Grinch.”
Estonia announces the launch of a groundbreaking “E-Refugee” program – touted as the first of its kind in the world – aimed at helping residents of rebel-held eastern Ukraine. “It doesn't actually give you the legal right to seek safety in Estonia,” Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas explains in a Reuters interview, “And it really won't help if you're starving or your house is being shelled. But it does give you access to all of our country's fantastic e-services.”
Russia, for its part, begins to tone down the negative references to Estonia on its highly-promoted website everybodywhodisagreeswithrussiaisafascist.ru.
Russia begins to quietly reduce troop numbers in Ukraine. The move makes headlines all over the globe except in Russia itself, where the news is dominated by “Project Friendship,” a joint Russian-Estonian effort to replant trees on the recently cleared border area between the two countries. Children from both nations help with the planting.
“The future must be one of peace,” say the politicians behind the project, which is announced a few weeks before Estonian national elections and the Russian Duma elections (which Putin had brought forward more than a year). Rõivas and Putin each see their parties win by a landslide. Edgar Savisaar, whose Center Party has official ties with Putin's United Russia, says he feels betrayed and slinks off to a quiet bar in Tallinn's Lasnamäe district.
With political relations between Estonia and Latvia already frayed by the long-running “who had Europe's first Christmas tree” spat, a new dispute over a barren strip of land near Valga arises. Russia sides with Estonia.
Latvia blames the Russian intelligence services for causing the rift, but the Estonian government issues a statement saying Latvia brought the conflict onto itself. No resolution is in sight. The dispute develops into a “frozen conflict.”
Taking another page from the Russian political playbook, Estonia restricts pork imports from its southern neighbor citing health concerns related to an “irregular number of toes” on each of the animals' feet and orders inspections. A Latvian TV documentary on the subject, entitled “This Little Piggy Stayed Home,” goes viral on YouTube.
Russia invites Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves to its May 9th Victory Day parade in Moscow. In a statement Russia says it is unfair to label Estonia “a bunch of Nazi fascists,” pointing to the fact that tens of thousands of Estonians fought on the side of the Soviet Union during World War II.
Ilves politely declines the invite, but reciprocates by inviting Putin to visit Estonia the following month for Estonia's own Victory Day events. Putin accepts.
Meanwhile, to combat the slump in Russian tourism, the Estonian government decides to take steps to make Estonia more “Russian friendly.” As a first step, the government once again reverses the law on public drinking, making it legal in all areas except kindergarten classrooms and Parliament's voting chamber. The Tallinn municipality takes the move a step further by setting up areas of “mandatory drinking” where anyone loitering must have a blood alcohol level of at least 0.2 permilles. The move backfires, as the designated areas quickly fill with middle-aged Finns and overall visitor numbers to Estonia quickly decline.
On his historic visit to Tallinn, Putin makes a moving speech on Freedom Square, fondly recalling his 'recreational' trips to Estonia during Soviet times. He finishes his speech with a rousing “Ma oljen Tallinnljane” (a brave attempt at saying “I am a Tallinner”) to the delight of the crowed. Putin also meets and publicly hugs Mayor Savisaar, a move seen as an attempt to repair their personal and political relationship.
In what observers initially attribute to the summer heat, Putin announces that residents of the Russian border area of Setomaa, an ethnic region currently split between Estonia and Russia, can hold a referendum on whether to become independent and/or eventually join Estonia.
The announcement sparks uprisings in dozens of other regions of Russia. These are all brutally quashed.
Steven Seagal, the pro-Kremlin Hollywood star/jazz musician, headlines at the Augustibluus festival in Haapsalu. He had been slated to perform there a year earlier, but was dropped from the schedule due to public outcry over his support for Ukrainian separatists. Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa and others previously unwelcome in Estonia receive presidential invites to attend the festival.
Estonian counterintelligence official Eston Kohver, long released by Moscow, makes an emotional return to the notorious Lefortovo prison with his wife and children where they have dinner and see a movie with prison staff.
By an incredible stroke of luck, Estonia manages to qualify from its European Basketball Championships group and lands Russia in the quarter finals. Fans look on in disbelief and then disgust when all the players, hand in hand, form a circle in the center of the court and sing folk songs until the final whistle. The game ends 0-0 and the basketball federations of the two nations propose fielding a joint-team for the semi-finals. The basketball governing body disqualifies both nations, sending Latvia into the final.
Western sanctions against Russia are finally lifted as the country completes its military pullout from the Donbas (Kremlin officials still claim it never had soldiers there) and begins negotiations, with Estonia's help, to settle the Crimea question.
But the process is nearly derailed when a Russian military aircraft, flying without a registered flight plan and its transponder switched off, gets wedged in the Eiffel Tower. Russians deny the plane is theirs, despite the fact that the aircraft bears Russian markings and the pilot gives several interviews on French television.
Estonia pledges to use its upcoming EU presidency to forge closer ties between the 28-member bloc and the Moscow-backed Eurasian Economic Union, with the hope of eventually opening the door to EU membership. Russia says the move is necessary to compete with the emerging Vietnam-Laos power union, which public opinion polls in Russia overwhelmingly show to be the country's biggest enemy, despite not existing, per se.
The two nations issue a joint declaration pledging that Kapo, the Estonian Internal Security Service, and the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, will both be dismantled and their respective headquarters in Tallinn and Moscow turned into water parks.
Parliamentary committees from both nations are set up to oversee the changes, with members getting first dibs on the water slides of their choice once the parks open.
Now that peace has been achieved, governments in the West go back to trying to forget that 2014 ever happened and set their sights on a bright future of cheap (but not too cheap) oil.
As a Christmas gift to Estonia, Russia uses its advanced cloud-seeding technology to create rainbows over the Narva River. Estonia reciprocates by presenting Putin with a one-of-a-kind horse that has been genetically modified by University of Tartu scientists to have a horn on its forehead. “Corny the Unicorn” proves a big hit with the Russian media, which shows manly photos of a bare-chested Putin riding the beast over the Narva's Friendship Bridge into a rainbow sunset. LGBT activists the world over nearly die with laughter at the irony.