MEPs: Cutting Russian diplomat numbers in Estonia should have come earlier

Banners supporting Ukraine tied to temporary railings outside the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, in the immediate aftermath of the February 24, 2022 invasion.
Banners supporting Ukraine tied to temporary railings outside the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, in the immediate aftermath of the February 24, 2022 invasion. Source: Helen Wright / ERR

Estonia should have already called for parity in the number of Russian embassy staff working in Tallinn as compared with Estonian staff in Moscow, two of Estonia's MEPs, from different points on the political spectrum, say.

The MEPs' comments follow Wednesday's news that the Russian embassy in Tallinn would be required to reduce its staffing levels by more than 50 percent.

MEP Marina Kaljurand (SDE) told "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that she would even have recalled Estonia's ambassador to Moscow, ahead of Wednesday's decision.

"I would have brought the [Estonian] ambassador home much earlier," she told AK.

"This would have been a strong political signal that Estonia does not send an ambassador to a state which violates international law, the UN Charter and attacks another, independent country," Kaljurand, a former Estonian ambassador to Russia, continued.

Estonia could have simultaneously expelled the Russian ambassador and recalled its own ambassador in Moscow, Kaljurand added, while maintaining consular services.

Marina Kaljurand. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The latter are required for as long as there are any Estonian citizens present anywhere in Russia, she said.

MEP Jaak Madison (EKRE) concurred, saying: "When Estonia recognizes Russia as an aggressor state, it is to be expected that specific, serious steps would follow on from that. I do think that expelling the ambassador and recalling its ambassador would have been a correct, adequate step, yes."

"This is a very rational decision, which should have been made earlier. The current situation is completely different, and must also be reflected in Russia's options for sending people to Estonia under the diplomatic corps banner but who are not engaged in diplomatic work, and instead obviously have the aim of undermining Estonia's security and capabilities in preventing Russian provocation," he went on.

Madison stopped short of calling for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador, effectively severing all diplomatic relations, however. 

"The step made today, where we allow Russian diplomats and pseudo-diplomats to be on a par with Estonian diplomats - each country has eight - is a reasonable step. But to expel the ambassador and close the embassy would not be particularly rational, and could instead harm us," he added.

Jaak Madison (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said Wednesday that Estonia had formally notified the Russian embassy of a requirement for imposing parity, under the terms of the Vienna Convention, between its embassy and the Estonian mission in Moscow.

A total of 13 diplomats plus eight administrative, technical and service staff members will be leaving Estonia as a result, while any response along the lines of further diplomatic expulsions, by Russia, of Estonian staff, would be met proportionately, Reinsalu added.

As of Wednesday's announcement, there were over 20 Russian diplomatic staff working at the embassy in Tallinn, along with a similar number of non-diplomatic officials; this figure must be cut to eight diplomats and 15 other staff, the foreign minister says.

Estonia previously operated consulates in St. Petersburg and in Pskov, less than 50km from the border with Estonia, but these were closed in the weeks following the start of the Ukraine invasion.

Estonia's current Ambassador to Russia is Margus Laidre. The current Russian incumbent in Tallinn is Vladimir Lipayev.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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