While several Estonian politicians have criticized the Foreign Ministry's decision to appoint a new ambassador of Estonia to Belarus, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that it is important that Estonia should have representation in the state.
When asked on Thursday if Estonia's new ambassador should present their credentials to Alexander Lukashenko, Kallas said that this was a complex issue with which other European states have also been struggling.
"On the one hand, we do not recognize Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, as the elections were not fair according to observers. On the other hand, we need diplomatic representation in this state," she said.
Details on this step should be sought from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kallas said.
"However, it is important that we have representation in Belarus in order to receive information on the spot and help our people if needed," the prime minister said.
President Kersti Kaljulaid signed a decision on July 6 appointing to office Estonia's new ambassador to Belarus. Incumbent ambassador Merike Kokajev's posting was to conclude on July 31 and she will be replaced by Jaak Lensment.
Last August's reelection of Lukashenko to a sixth term in polls widely condemned as rigged has been followed by repression ever since. Leading opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to Vilnius, Lithuania, around 30 km from the border with Belarus, soon after the election, while another opposition leader, journalist Roman Protasevich, was arrested after a Ryanair flight en route to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk precisely for the purpose of detaining him.
Ex-foreign ministers reject appointment of ambassador to Belarus
Two former Estonian foreign ministers, one of whom was in office until January this year, while the other is a sitting MEP, have hit out at the appointment of a new Estonian ambassador to Belarus, announced earlier this week.
Appointing a new ambassador to replace the outgoing representative, who leaves office at the end of this month, is tantamount to a tacit recognition of the Lukashenko regime's legitimacy, the former ministers said.
Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), who was foreign minister in the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, has called the appointment, of Jaak Lensment as ambassador a: "Blind and senseless act, to say the least, and one that does a great service to the cruel regime of Alexander Lukashenko."
He said that while some type of diplomatic representation in Belarus is necessary on behalf of Estonia, this could be fulfilled by an interim charge d'affaires ad interim, who could act without having to present their credentials to Lukashenko.
"I find that the timing, which carries a central role in international relations, is completely wrong. Secondly, this step is morally wrong also from the perspective Estonia's national law," Reinsalu told daily Postimees.
"During the previous government's time in office, I myself worded a draft regulation of the government, which clearly stipulated that we do not recognize the election results rigged by Lukashenko's regime. Estonia stated through the position of its government, which implements the state's domestic and foreign policy, that Lukashenko had lost his mandate."
MEP Urmas Paet (Reform), foreign minister 2005-2014, agreed, calling the timing fundamentally wrong.
Paet said that: "It should be postponed until a new legitimate president takes office in Belarus. As we know, the EU does not recognize Lukashenko as president. Thus, a new ambassador's credentials cannot be presented to him. This is all the more relevant considering that the Belarusian regime has mounted a hybrid attack on Lithuania, by using refugees."
Large numbers of displaced persons have been crossing the border from Belarus into Lithuania, which currently has no ambassador in Minsk, in recent days.
Editor's note: Quotes from Kaja Kallas were added to this article.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright