Reform MP: Estonia crucial in brokering Russia-West relations

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Deputy chair of the Riigikogu's foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform). Source: ERR

In addition to drawing attention to threats from the Russian Federation, Estonia must also advocate other international issues, including those which it, Russia, can take a more positive role in and would add value to the West's relations with Estonia's eastern neighbor, Deputy Chair of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) told Vikerraadio show "Välistund" Monday.

Reiterating earlier foreign ministry declarations on the matter, Mihkelson, and fellow guest and outgoing foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said that additional sanctions should be imposed on Russia following Sunday's arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, immediately after touching down in Moscow from a flight from Germany.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) could raise the issue of the mandate of the Russian delegation at its next meeting, Mihkelson added.

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However, more positive ways of involving Russia were also needed, he said, noting that sanctions and the like were all well and good but other avenues needed to be explored.

He said: "There is nothing to do about Russia - we can further restrict communication, and cancel visits, but the reality is that there is constant talk in European capitals about the need to rekindle relations with Moscow, or at least talk about internationally important issues.

Examples of this included the START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expires in February shortly after a new U.S. administration begins, Mihkelson said.

Solutions regarding conflict areas in Iran, Syria and Libya, and Russian involvement in these was also needed, he said.

Cross-border initiatives have helped develop eastern Estonia

Of concrete examples of Estonian participation on the international stage regarding Russia, Mihkelson noted cross-border joint projects financed under the European Union's new financial perspective (MFF), which, he said, has created significant stability and transparency in southeastern Estonia and the Narva region. 

"All these types of infrastructure projects are crucial, creating predictable stability, because any instability can threaten us," he stressed.

Mihkelson: Center's United Russia agreement a millstone, doesn't affect coalition talks

Reform is in current coalition talks with the Center Party, which still has an agreement with Vladimir Putin's United Russia party to its name.

Mihkelson, who has repeatedly criticized the agreement in the past, said that its existence was inappropriate, but added that that would not interfere with the ongoing negotiations.

"We talked about it, but obviously it was not a central issue, since in Estonian foreign policy as Urmas Reinsalu well knows, having been in a coalition with the Center Party for the last four years, we have significantly more important issues in foreign and security policy and defense policy."

Mihkelson added that Center viewed the United Russia agreement as somewhat of a throwback.

"The members and leaders of the Center Party have also repeatedly and publicly stated that the agreement, which was signed in 2004, is a millstone around their necks, and there is no sign that they will keep it active, "Mihkelson said. 

"Of course, considering the developments in Russia, it is inappropriate that such an agreement exists. But it has not disturbed - as Reinsalu can confirm - the representation of Estonia's interests in the widest range."

However, this is a parallel, bilateral issue, he said, noting that the ball was now in Russia's court but the latter had not demonstrated interest in it, and is unlikely to do so ahead of this year's State Duma elections, scheduled to take place by mid-September.

The original 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty signed between the Estonian Republic and the fledgling Soviet Russian state led to an Estonian-Russian border somewhat different from that of today, with formerly Estonian territory around the town of Petseri (present-day Pechory) and Jaanilinn (Ivangorod) now part of the Russian Federation.

Mihkelson also said that he would not turn his nose up at being Urmas Reinsalu's replacement, adding that the full line-up of new cabinet ministers would likely be ready at the end of this week.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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