Margus Laidre, the Estonian ambassador to Moscow who left at Russia's request, said that getting information from Russia is more difficult without a high representative in Moscow.
"Diplomacy has multiple sides. On the one hand, it is contemporary, modern and inventive, but in the context of the 21st century, it is unexpectedly conservative, meaning that access to specific events, meetings and people is still easier for diplomats with a higher rank," Laidre told "Terevisioon" on Wednesday.
Laidre said that the level of diplomacy is dependent on the diplomat's seniority, not their personality. "I recall that the United States had a deputy ambassador in Moscow for a few months. He was occasionally visible, but his possibilities to keep the flag flying were limited," the ambassador continued.
Laidre said it would not be wise to prioritize only one aspect of the information gathering process; it is important to synthesize it from both the outside and inside in order to construct a whole. "And if we look at the wider picture now, we see that none of the Baltic republics have an ambassador in Moscow, but at the same time, we claim to be Russia's experts," the former ambassador said.
Laidre, however, added that the Estonian Embassy in Moscow has a very capable temporary deputy, Jana Vanamölder, who is on her third mission to Moscow and is well familiar with Russia. The embassy will continue to operate with the same efficiency and effectiveness as before.
On the possibility of improving relations with Russia, Laidre replied, "I am afraid that it is not worth waiting until this war is over; this war will certainly end one day. /---/ Let's not engage in a prediction game and instead do everything we can to ensure that this nightmare will end one day."
People afraid to speak out
Commenting on the behavior of the Russian people and their attitude to the war against Ukraine, Laidre said that they are able to adapt to very difficult circumstances, otherwise they would quickly burn out.
"What can be seen in Moscow, however, is that there are occasional bursts of anxiety. The cost of living has certainly risen, and on a purely practical level, the selection in stores has become more limited. And the people we have spoken with in Moscow are psychologically reluctant to discuss the war," Laidre said.
Laidre said this is both because of fear, as the country has reached a point where even visiting a foreign embassy can result in severe punishment, as well as merely avoiding discussing unpleasant topics.
"Nevertheless, the public is aware of current events and follows the news, so we cannot say that they are uninformed. The VPN is currently one of Russia's most essential three-letter acronyms; it allows them to keep up with world news," Laidre added. A VPN is an application that allows you to circumvent country-specific Internet restrictions
In response to a question about how tolerant Russians are, Laidre said, "The difference between the way Westerners and Russians look at history is that we in the West, often without reason, think that every next year must be better than the previous one, but for Russians, in a historical context, if the next year is the same as the previous one, then it is already good."
Western sanctions are having an impact on Russia, but it takes time, Laidre said. "There's no magic shot in the arm and then we have got the result immediately."
No crumbling of power in Moscow for the moment
Laidre said there are currently no sign of a power vacuum in Russia. "However, Russia's entire history has demonstrated that events can begin very quickly; one of Russia's defining characteristics is spontaneity. It is difficult to predict when this tipping point will occur, but it is possible," he said.
According to sources close to the elite, there is no hope for change: "All the information we have heard from those in power in Russia, including people close to the Kremlin or who have been close to the Kremlin, as well as from the opposition, confirms one thing: there is no panic, Putin knows exactly what he is doing, he has a definite plan, there are no signs of any splits in the power elite. When asked why, the answer is that there is no escape from the submarine."
Asked whether Russia would be affected if its athletes were banned from participating in the Paris Summer Olympics, Laidre said yes. "It would definitely have an effect, because sport and politics have always gone together in Russia and the Soviet Union. Sport has always been one of the tools of politics. So it will definitely make a difference. In this case, the international community should not and could not make any kind of concession to let Russian athletes into the Olympics."
Laidre has served as the Estonian Ambassador to Russia since October 2018. On February 7, he resigned from Moscow in response to Russia's demand that Estonia reduce the size of the Russian embassy.
Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa