Vseviov: If diplomatic parity is lost it is difficult to return to normal

Jonatan Vseviov.
Jonatan Vseviov. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

It is important that Russia and Estonia's respective embassies are represented by an equal number of diplomats otherwise it puts the country at a disadvantage, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonaton Vseviov said.

On Monday, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it was withdrawing its ambassador from Tallinn and downgrading diplomatic relations and will be represented by charge d'affaires. Last week Estonia requested Russia reduce the number of staff in its embassy to match Estonia's in Moscow.

Vseviov told Monday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" the reason for the move is Russia's war in Ukraine and its breaches of the fundamental principles of European security.

"In light of this, we decided some time ago that the number of diplomats in Tallinn and Moscow should be equal, we are no longer going to accept that Russia has several more diplomats in Tallinn than we are allowed to have in Moscow," he said.

The top official emphasized that the Estonian ambassador was not expelled from Russia, he was asked to leave by February 7. This is a diplomatic nuance.

The Russian Embassy in Estonia has been the scene of protests since the invasion started on February 24, 2022. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"This finesse is important to diplomats, it means the ambassador was asked to leave," he said.

Asked why Russia requested the ambassador leave, Vseviov said Estonia has moved more quickly than other countries when sanctioning Russia.

From now on, the number of diplomats in each country's embassy will be equal, which reflects the reality of the current situation, he said. The number of diplomats assigned to each country is related to historical context.

"However, parity in terms of the number of diplomats is a scenario that I believe most countries seek and the Estonian case is now being watched very closely," said Vseviov.

The official said Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu's (Isamaa) call for other countries to follow the parity principle is understood, but every country faces a different situation.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary General Jonatan Vseviov's visit to Ukraine. January 11-13, 2023. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr

"At different times, countries have allowed varying numbers of Russian diplomats to operate in their capitals. In some countries, this situation of near or parity has already been achieved. But in general, once it has been allowed to get out of hand, it is difficult to turn it back, because for every step the other side can retaliate with a step of its own," said Vseviov.

This is why parity is preferred, he added.

"Diplomats have to do their job, even in the capitals of countries with which we share no interests or views, and which also pose a security threat to us. The fact that they have significantly more diplomats here than we have there puts us at an unequal disadvantage in many diplomatic situations. We don't want an unequal position with Russia and we don't have that unequal position anymore," he said.

It's assumed the number of diplomats will only rise again when relations have improved between the two countries.

"Of course, this can only happen in a wider context, including Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine," the secretary general said.

The newly renovated Estonian Embassy in Moscow. Source: KAOS Arhitektid

Latvia tells ambassador to leave

Latvia showed solidarity with Estonia on Monday.

Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics said the country will lower the level of its diplomatic representation in Russia, public broadcaster LSM reported.

It will also demand that Russia does the same.

Russian Ambassador Mikhail Vanin will have to leave Latvia, and the Latvian ambassador in Moscow, Maris Riekstinš, will be recalled to Riga.

Vanin is required to leave by February 24.

Over 40 embassy workers, diplomats asked to leave since 2017

More than 40 Russian embassy or technical workers and diplomats have been ordered to leave Estonia since 2017 as relations between the two countries have soured.

The majority of explosions, which are usually reciprocal, have occurred since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Last year 17 working at the embassy were told to leave and the figure has risen to 21 this year, not including the ambassador. Most were embassy workers rather than diplomats. Reuters reported three diplomats had been expelled since the invasion began.

Estonia and Belarus also mutually reduced the number of workers in Minsk and Tallinn last year. These do not count as expulsions.

This was due to Estonia's strong support for Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will soon appoint an ambassador to Vilnius to work with Tikhanovskaya and her team.


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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