Foreign minister: Estonia willing to consider granting Navalny asylum

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets does not support former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' proposal to freeze all Russian citizens' EU entry visas and says that Estonia is prepared to consider granting asylum to Alexey Navalny.

The UK presented its allies with tangible proof of the attack after Russia went after Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. Has the government of Czechia done the same now, after expelling 18 Russian diplomats? Produced evidence of attacks on military warehouses in 2014?

The Czech government has made a corresponding statement next to the decision to expel diplomats, while they have not gone into detail. Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek has informed EU foreign ministers in more detail, with NATO allies to be informed later this week. We have the outline of events but hope Czechia will give its partners additional information.

It was an attack against a NATO member state, our ally. A military attack in essence?

Yes, which is why it is very important the matter will be discussed in the North Atlantic Council. Allies need to seriously discuss how to better prevent such situations in the future. Five NATO members have expelled Russian diplomats in the last three weeks. They have committed acts that have violated the sovereignty of member states and harmed national security interests.

Russia-West relations are very poor and have only worsened in recent weeks, while it does not seem to be worrying Moscow. Will Estonia come up with its own initiative for keeping Russia in check at the EU foreign ministerial today? Will we propose additional sanctions or steps to punish Russia?

These events are significant from Estonia's point of view. We spent the entire weekend deliberating the Russia question and arrived at a EU joint statement. It sharply condemns human rights violations in Russia in connection with the detention of Alexey Navalny. We can see that his health has deteriorated. Russia needs to deescalate military activity on the Ukraine border, honor international law and cease human rights violations.

We know of cases where dissidents or unwanted persons have simply been banished from Russia and the Soviet Union. Would Estonia be willing to grant Navalny asylum? Upon being approached.

I believe that Estonia would seriously consider it. However, it is up to Alexey Navalny to decide where he wants to go should Russia allow him to leave. It would be very welcome were Russia to offer Navalny the chance.

I believe I did not receive a direct reply in terms of whether Estonia has made any separate proposals as concerns Russia sanctions.

My Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues and I went to Ukraine to help keep those matters on the international agenda. It is crucial to maintain high-level political support for Ukraine in terms of their efforts to protect their territorial integrity. We also need to involve more international organizations in the effort to help Ukraine. The same goes for human rights violations in Russia.

The reason for my question is a tweet by former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (see below - ed.) where he proposes freezing the entry of all Russian citizens to the EU – a forceful and concrete proposal. What is your opinion of it?

I kept an eye on that exchange, and I very much hope that Russia relations will not deteriorate to a point where such drastic measures would have to be taken. Why would it be problematic? We support democratic forces and civil society in Russia. Contacts between people are very important in that context.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves' recent tweet on visa travel in Europe for Russian citizens. Source: Social Media

We have indeed seen people who we find should not be allowed into the EU granted visas. But on the other hand, we need to keep in mind that ordinary Russians also want to travel to our countries. We need to facilitate that to maintain contact between people, cultural contacts and help civil society in Russia remain strong.

Estonian Ambassador to Moscow Margus Laidre posted a Russian news agency photo that depicts the ambassador entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. What was he doing there on Friday?

Estonia continues to maintain mutual contacts. The Russian Federation is a neighbor that has a very long boundary line with Estonia. We have several mutual agreements in the works. Mutual relations were the purpose of Mr. Laidre's visit.

Is there any sense in discussing the unresolved border issue between Estonia and Russia in a situation where the relationship between Moscow and NATO has soured?

Russia's relationship with Estonia and other EU and NATO countries has been strained to say the least since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Perhaps we can go further back and say relations have been poor since the war in Georgia. Therefore, we must rather look to the future. Relations are cool, strained, while we must keep in mind that Russia is a neighboring country that has a long boundary line with us. It is very important for the contractual base of mutual relations to be strong, which is what we have been working toward at the ministry and will continue to make efforts to achieve. Ratification of the 2014 border agreements needs political will and progress on both sides.

You said that relations with neighbors matter to Estonia. President Kersti Kaljulaid gave a lengthy interview to Õhtuleht where she admitted that Estonia supported the candidacy of former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for OECD president. ERR's information suggests Cormann only beat Swede Cecilia Malmström with a single vote in the final round. Why did we not support our neighbor?

It makes for an excellent topic because it has been a long time since Estonia proposed a candidate for a position as important as that of OECD secretary general. Estonia had a very strong candidate. We stood behind our candidate all the way, as did out activity plan for maximum effect.

The strategy proved successful, while President Kersti Kaljulaid decided to drop out of the race before the final round. OECD member states support free market economy, democracy and the principles of the rule of law. We made a plan that supported our candidate's success.

You failed to answer my question regarding Estonia's decision to support the Australian candidate instead of throwing its weight behind our neighbor and fellow EU member Sweden. The Australian won by a single vote that Estonia could have given to the Swedish candidate.

It is difficult for me to comment on these confidential voting results. I'm sure you're information is excellent if you know by how many votes Sweden lost. However, I dare say Estonia is a principled country. If we agree to support someone, we will honor that promise until the voting is done.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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