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Estonia expects steps by Duma on border treaty to improve relations

Head of the Estonian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Marko Mihkelson.
Head of the Estonian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Marko Mihkelson. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

The chairman of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed the wish expressed by his counterpart that Estonian-Russian relations might improve, but is awaiting progress on the ratification of the border treaty.

"The recent statement by Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky regarding the potential improvement of relations is to be welcomed," Mihkelson told BNS regarding the Russian official's Monday statement.

"While there are several possibilities for invigorating relations between Estonia and Russia, this will largely depend upon Russia's willingness and readiness," he continued. "Estonia has always demonstrated the desire to strengthen bilateral relations with Russia on the basis of neighborliness and mutual benefit. Of course, we also have to keep in mind that the overall state of affairs in relations between Russia and the West has an immediate effect on our bilateral relations."

Mihkelson noted that said state of affairs is currently not good as a result of Moscow's continued aggression in Eastern Ukraine.

Slutsky voiced hope on Monday that relations between Russia and Estonia would improve and called for the intensifying of inter-parliamentary cooperation.

"At the same time, no matter what sympathies we have with each other and maybe similar, if not the same, positions [we have] on some international issues, we are still frustrated by things such as the existence of the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn or non-citizens — in Latvia as well," the Russian lawmaker said, adding that there was no such term in international law.

"Slutsky knows Estonia's situation quite well," Mihkelson said in response. "He also knows, particularly from the time of the events of the Bronze Nights in 2007, when he visited Tallinn himself, that it is not possible to twist our society with external pressure and that Estonia successfully protects its sovereignty. Therefore it would make sense, looking to the future, to work on bilateral relations in a manner where there is no ultimatum-like way of speaking and the focus is placed on solving actual shortcomings."

The Estonian MP said that the ratification of the Estonian-Russian border treaties has been stalled in the State Duma Committee on International Affairs. The Riigikogu has already completed the first reading of the ratification law of the two border treaties and is ready to move on to the final vote if the same is done in the Duma.

"Our Russian colleagues, including Leonid Slutsky, are informed that the ratification of the treaties could take place with parallel timetables," Mihkelson said. "A proposal to this effect was made back in 2013 by Slutsky's predecessor Alexsey Pushkov. Estonia has stuck to the agreements on this; we hope that the same will be done by Russia."

The Estonian MP recalled that Slutsky had promised last fall that the ratification would be handled in an expedited manner.

Estonia continues to wait on Russia

Estonia’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov signed treaties on the land and maritime borders between Estonia and Russia in May 2005.

The Riigikogu passed the treaties in the following month after adding a preamble to the bill in which it was explained that in ratifying the border treaties, the Riigikogu had in mind that, in accordance with Article 122 of the Constitution, the border treaty would partly change the line of the state border as defined in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 but would not affect the rest of the treaty and would not define the treatment of any bilateral issues not connected with the border treaties.

Russia, however, noted that it viewed the added preamble as opening the way to future territorial claims and withdrew its signature at the end of June that same year, despite Estonia having denied having territorial claims on Russia on repeated occasions.

Negotiations on the treaty between the two countries resumed in 2013, and the foreign ministers eventually signed the agreements in Moscow on Feb. 18, 2014.

As ERR has previously reported, in fall 2015, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Marina Kaljurand and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov reached an agreement that the two governments would submit the new border treaties to their respective parliaments for ratification.

On the Estonian side, the Riigikogu did so, where relevant bills passed their first reading in November 2015 already. Per common practice, the treaties would be ratified in both countries’ respective parliaments simultaneously after they has also passed their first reading in the State Duma. On the Russian side, however, the Duma had yet to even begin the ratification process.

Russian ambassador blamed Estonia for creating unsuitable atmosphere

The BNS reported in July 2016 that Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov was quoted in the Russian newspaper Izvestiya as saying that the ratification of the Estonian-Russian treaties had been hindered by tensions in bilateral relations.

"We have repeatedly told Estonia's representatives that the ratification of the border treaties requires a suitable atmosphere — namely, that the parties refrain from creating tensions," said Petrov. "This hasn't happened so far."

The Russian ambassador cited several instances in which Estonia had purportedly created tension between two neighboring countries, including Estonian border guards turning away a Russian delegation on its way to May 9 events in Tartu that spring as well as several instances in which he was summoned to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the violation of Estonian airspace by Russian aircraft.

"After each such protest, Moscow has forwarded via the Estonian Embassy information which clearly shows that no violation took place," explained the Russian ambassador. "But this has not changed the Estonian side's position."

Petrov also referred to recent Estonian steps, considered unfriendly by Moscow, as hindrances to the ratification of the Estonian-Russian treaties in an interview with Russian news agency Interfax in mid-May as well.

The Riigikogu successfully completed the first reading of the Bill on the Ratification of the State Border Treaty between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation and the Treaty on the Delimitation of Maritime Areas of Narva Bay and the Gulf of Finland between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation on Nov. 25, 2015.

Slutsky said in October 2016, following the Duma elections in Russia, that the Duma might ratify the border treaties with Estonia before the end of the year. No concrete steps have yet been taken in the Duma to do so, however.

The treaties must be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, after which they will go into effect 30 days after the exchange of the letters of ratification.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS, ERR

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