Mihkelson: Phone call between Estonia, Russia marks clear step forward

Marko Mihkelson (Reform).
Marko Mihkelson (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Estonian parliament Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said that the telephone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday is a clear sign of progress in relations between the two countries.

"No matter how complicated the relations between the countries may be or how fragile the international security picture may be, it is the role of foreign ministers and diplomats to maintain contacts and strive to reduce tensions or resolve existing problems. This is especially true in relations that affect the security of Estonia and the entire region," Mihkelson wrote on social media on Saturday.

"The fact that the Estonian and Russian foreign ministers had not been in contact for over five years before yesterday's [Friday] telephone conversation between Liimets and Lavrov is very telling. It is not a question of phone calls or appointments solving deep-rooted problems. It would be naive to assume that. But at the same time, it is a fact that even the most opposing positions can be balanced through patient and determined diplomatic action," Mihkelson said. "If Jaan Poska had at the time been of the opinion that the Bolsheviks should not be negotiated with under any circumstances, because they are terrorists, then we would not currently have the Tartu Peace Treaty or the meaningful basis for the entire history of Estonian-Russian relations of its Article 2," he added.

"The some 20-minute conversation between the ministers yesterday was rather the contact of making an acquaintance, where the parties presented their views on bilateral relations and issues of international importance. It is very good that Minister Liimets had the opportunity to directly express our attitude about the escalation of tensions on Ukraine's borders to the Russian foreign minister," Mihkelson said. "It is namely Russia's aggression against Ukraine that has caused years of cooling of Russian-Western relations, which in turn affects Estonian-Russian relations. We do not need to deceive ourselves -- the worse the relations between Russia and the West, the more tense and dangerous our security situation will be. Our strong ally in NATO, credible deterrence and diplomatic credibility, including in relations with Russia, will foremost help to alleviate this."

"There was nothing surprising about the content of yesterday's conversation," Mihkelson said. "Lavrov presented a well-known list of Moscow's talking points, which to some extent date back already to the 1990s. Against this, Liimets presented her own views, which are also known from our consistent foreign policy agenda in relations with Russia. The fact that there is a shortage of contact points is no surprise to anyone," he added.

"As for the issue of border agreements, Russia is diplomatically trying to roll the ball to Estonia's court, although it knows very well that the ratification of the agreements has been stuck behind the Kremlin and the State Duma since their signing in 2014. Lavrov's allusions to territorial claims are not serious, as this clause is already included in the agreement, signed by Lavrov himself," Mihkelson said. "Despite the foreign policy swerves of ministers in the second government of Juri Ratas, former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu also considered it inappropriate to talk about territorial claims. The idea that Russia seems to be pushing us to abandon our principles is utter nonsense. We cannot be influenced by this, nor can the society be divided, if, of course, the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), which wants to pull Estonia out of the European Union, does not fancy being under the control of the Kremlin itself, for example."

"How to proceed from here?" Mihkelson asked rhetorically. "Easy does it in relations with Russia, purposefully relying on one's principles and allied relations both in NATO and the European Union. It is obvious that any military escalation in Ukraine will only worsen the background of our relations with Russia. At the same time, it is important for Estonian diplomats to maintain those consultation channels that would allow them to speak directly when dealing with existing practical issues, such as cross-border cooperation -- new European Union funds for cross-border projects are about to open. President Kersti Kaljulaid must also decide in the near future which choreography to choose for the Finno-Ugric World Congress scheduled for June," he added.

MEP: Estonian, Russian media's views on conversation do not coincide

Looking at the reports of the Estonian and Russian sides on the Friday phone conversation between the foreign ministers of Estonia and Russia, one gets the impression that there were two separate phone calls, one of which was attended only by the Estonian and the other by the Russian foreign minister, Estonian MEP Urmas Paet (Reform) said.

"This difference in the messages sent to the outside world describes how complicated relations are currently between Western countries, including Estonia, and Russia. It seems impossible to find common ground on anything that was talked about, even for a press release," Paet said. "Estonian-Russian relations are part of the relations between all democratic countries and Russia. Thus, they cannot differ significantly from the general background either."

"Of course, communication between neighbors is necessary even in difficult times, even just to make it easier when circumstances change," Paet said. "However, more time will be needed for more or less simultaneous ratification of the border agreements by the parliaments of both countries. This requires will, not all kinds of excuses not related to the treaties. However, the current tension in the relationship does not support the emergence of this will."

"Development in the atmosphere of relations would be indicated even by the fact that, if after a while, there is at least some overlapping part in the press release following the meetings or telephone calls of the Estonian and Russian foreign ministers," Paet said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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