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Justice minister goes behind PM's back to sign declaration about reparations for Soviet occupation

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The justice ministers of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania declared that it's time to calculate the losses the three countries suffered as the result of the Soviet occupation and demand that Russia, as the legal successor of the USSR, take responsibility and pay compensation. Yet, other members of the Estonian Government say the declaration, signed on Thursday, was not discussed in cabinet meetings.

A joint declaration was signed on Thursday in Riga by justice ministers of the three Baltic states.

"After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian Federation declared itself to be the successor of the rights and obligations of the USSR," the declaration reads. "Consequently, all claims arising from the occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and its consequences, at present shall be solved with the Russian Federation."

The ministers agreed to first "assess and declare through joint cooperation the total economic loss and damage inflicted upon the three Baltic states by the USSR, based on the most practical and thorough research method." They then aim to make sure that Russia acknowledges and compensates all related losses.

The declaration further promises "to ensure that current and future generations have full and objective understanding of the USSR occupation and its impact“ and “the crimes of the Soviet totalitarian regime and in particular the occupation of the Baltic states receive respective evaluation at the international level."

Estonian Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu said that none of the Baltic states have waived the claim for reparations nor plan to do so.

In addition to claims by entire countries, the states will have to analyze claims submitted by groups of individuals against the legal successor of the occupying force or enterprises that used slave labor.

So far, losses suffered by Estonia during the Soviet occupations have been studied by a commission established in 1992 to determine the acts of violence committed by occupying powers on the territory of Estonia and against Estonian citizens. The committee, once chaired by renowned writer Jaan Kross, disbanded in 2004.

Reinsalu's solo

Several cabinet members have expressed their surprise at the joint declaration, saying the government never discussed it.

Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand told Delfi that Reinsalu brought the issue neither to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor to the cabinet. When international declarations are concerned, discussions should be a given, she added.

Kaljurand explained that the impending ratification of the Estonian-Russian border treaty already means that Russia is keeping a close eye on every statement Estonia or its politicians, especially cabinet members, make.

Public Administration Minister Arto Aas also said in Twitter that a joint reparations claim was never discussed in cabinet meetings.

Rõivas: Justice minister's initiative causes unnecessary foreign policy shake-up

Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas told ERR that he was not aware of the declaration the justice ministers of the Baltic states signed on Thursday.

“It's Urmas Reinsalu's initiative, which I have failed to fully comprehend – what purpose does it serve and will it have a practical outcome,” Rõivas said.

He stressed that Estonia needs a dignified and coordinated approach in its foreign policies.

“I don't quite understand what we as a state have to gain from this memorandum,” Rõivas said. He added: “In my opinion, such issues were on the agenda decades ago. I don't see this enterprise having any perspective. What it does do, however, is cause a shake-up in our foreign affairs, something that is generally not expected of Estonia.”

“It's not just Russia, but many of our Western allies too, that will raise their eyebrows,” Rõivas explained.

According to Reinsalu, the memorandum was signed on the initiative of Latvia, with an aim to conform the methodology used to assess occupation damages. Not signing it would sent Russia a signal, that Estonia sees no problem in not putting in a compensation claim, Reinsalu said.

Editor: M. Oll

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