Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has once again blasted Estonian and Latvian citizenship and language policies, this time mentioning them in a lengthy article that mostly hit out against the US and NATO.
Putin's piece, "Russia and the Changing World," which appeared in Moskovskie Novosti on February 27, is the latest a series of pre-election articles he has released in the run-up to the country's March 4 presidential elections. Though most of the 6,000-word position statement lambasted Western military strategy and foreign policy, painting it as overly-agressive and irrationally anti-Russian, Estonia and Latvia were not spared Russia's traditional rap on minority rights issues.
"We are determined to ensure that Latvian and Estonian authorities follow the numerous recommendations of reputable international organizations on observing generally accepted rights of ethnic minorities. We cannot tolerate the shameful status of 'non-citizen,'" he said, as translated by Russia's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.
"How can we accept that, due to their status as non-citizens, one in six Latvian residents and one in thirteen Estonian residents are denied their fundamental political, electoral and socioeconomic rights and the ability to freely use Russian?"
Putin also criticized Latvia's recent referendum on making Russian a state language, decrying what he said was 300,000 non-citizens being barred from taking part as well as what he termed the "outrageous" decision by the Latvian Central Electoral Committee to refuse to allow a Russian delegation to monitor the vote.
Both Estonia and Latvia have large ethnic Russian minorities among their populations, a legacy of Soviet-era migration policies. Most have taken Estonian, Latvian or Russian citizenship, however around 100,000 in Estonia and 290,000 in Latvia have still not opted to apply. Application for Estonian and Latvian citizenship in most cases requires passing a language examination.