Russia shows interest in ratifying Estonian border agreement

Marko Mihkelson (right) and Grigory Karasin on February 8, 2022 in Moscow.
Marko Mihkelson (right) and Grigory Karasin on February 8, 2022 in Moscow. Source: Marko Mihkelsoni sotsiaalmeedia

Russia has expressed interest in ratifying the border with Estonia and efforts are being made to restore regular contact between the two parliaments, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said on Tuesday.

Mihkelson is on a rare visit to Moscow to discuss foreign and security policy. On Tuesday, he met with counterpart Grigory Karasin, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council.

This was the first meeting between Estonian and Russian officials of this level for eight years, Mihkelson wrote on social media.

"He [Karasin] raised the issue of ratification of the border treaty, saying that Russia wants to proceed with it," Mihkelson wrote after the meeting. However, the MP said the Russian side seemed unfamiliar with the facts and Estonia's previous actions.

"I described the background to him, mentioning, among other things, that Estonia has twice, in two different parliaments (2014, 2015) shown the will to ratify the border agreements. Russia has not yet shown the same will," Mihkelson said.

Reservists constructing Estonia's temporary border barrier in south Estonia in November 2021. Source: Ministry of Defense

A press release issued by the Federation Council after the meeting confirmed Russia's interest in the issue. The need to waive all territorial claims was emphasized.

Mihkelson also raised the situation in Ukraine with his counterpart and emphasized the principles of international law and the U.N. Charter.

"One of the central themes of which is the refusal to threaten force and refrain from violently changing borders," Mikhelson wrote. "We talked at length about our views on the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their own security guarantees. Of course, we were divided, but the conversation was honest and open."

The chairman emphasized that any deterioration in the security situation in relations between Russia and the west would also have a "detrimental effect on our bilateral relations".

The Federation Council's press release said Karasin raised the subject of the Estonian-language education system and its effect on Russian speakers. He also expects Estonia to take practical steps in improving bilateral relations.

Thaw in Russia-Estonia parliamentary relations?

It was also decided to try and restore relations between the two parliaments.

"At the end of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, we decided that we would try to restore regular contacts between the parliaments. Today's meeting, at least, created the preconditions for that," Mihkelson wrote on social media.

He said the meeting could be seen as an attempt to thaw relations between the parliaments.

Mihkelson wrote: "Of course, the timing is extremely difficult, but right now we have to find ways to keep communication channels open and to talk openly about everything that threatens or disturbs our relationship."

Estonian politicians rarely visit Russia as relations between the two countries are tense. Last year the foreign ministers of both countries held their first phone call in five years. Former President Kersti Kaljulaid's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2019 was viewed as highly controversial.

This time the visit comes as Russia masses thousands of troops on Ukraine's borders and demands NATO forces be removed from countries that were not members of the alliance in 1997, meaning Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

"No sign of readiness to de-escalate any time soon"

After Mihkelson's first day of meetings on Monday, he said President Vladimir Putin wants to "shake up" the "security architecture in Europe".

"There is no sign of readiness to de-escalate any time soon. People who hope to turn time back to business as usual must wake up," he wrote on social media.

The Reform politician participated at a round table event attended by students of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and foreign and security policy experts from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

On Wednesday morning, Mihkelson will meet with Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian State Duma.

The history of the Russian-Estonian border treaty

The original Treaty of Tartu briefly on public display at the National Archives of Estonia. February 2, 2017. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

After difficult negotiations, the peace treaty between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia was signed on February 2, 1920, ending the Estonian War of Independence.

The treaty established Estonia's eastern border, and Soviet Russia recognized the independence of the Republic of Estonia in perpetuity.

When Estonia regained independence in August 1991, it was not within the border stipulated in the Tartu Peace Treaty, under which it was occupied and unlawfully annexed by the Soviet Union in June 1940.

Ever since, discussions have been held to try to ratify the border but to little avail. Even Estonian politicians are split on the issue.

The topic was most recently raised by Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) last February who said Estonia would again take steps to ratify the border.

ERR News previously republished International Center for Defense and Security's research fellow Kalev Stoicescu's article about the Estonian-Russian border agreement which gives an analysis and historical overview of the topic.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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