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Russian ambassador: Estonian-Russian relations not currently at their best

Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov.
Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonia's current relations with Russia, like those of all EU and NATO member states, are not at their best right now, Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov said on Monday.

"Russian-Estonian relations are not currently in the best state," Mr Petrov said at a press coference, adding that the same was the case for other EU and NATO member states as well.

According to the ambassador, relations have been damaged by baseless accusations by Western states against Russia for which no adequate proof has been provided.

He cited as examples the poisoning of the Skripals in the UK, accusations regarding Russian interference in US political processes, the conflict in the Kerch Strait in which Russian military vessels attacked and took over three Ukrainian military vessels, and, as the latest example, claims regarding Russia's participation in the "yellow vest" protest movement in France.

"Sadly, these kinds of accusations can be heard in Estonia as well, which do not help improve the atmosphere of relations between us," Mr Petrov said, adding that this was why no practical steps are being taken to promote bilateral relations.

The ambassador noted that this year had started off in a positive mood, and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) was scheduled to visit Russia in May, but Estonia then decided to cancel his visit.

Mr Ratas decided to call off visiting the Days of Estonian Culture in Krasnoyarsk after it was determined in March that Russian special services were behind the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.

Estonia, Russia to send new defence attachés

Nonetheless, following Estonia's expulsion the spring of the Russian defence attaché as part of an international respons to the attack on the Skripals, to which Russia responded in kind, the two countries have reached an agreement to reassign defence attachés to each other's country.

The recently reached agreement was announced by Mr Petrov, and later confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Estonia has forwarded a request to Russia in a note for the posting of an Estonian defence attaché to Moscow and has received a positive response," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Sandra Kamilova told BNS. "Russia, on its part, has asked for Estonia's acceptance of the posting of its defence attaché to Tallinn and has also received a positive response. The procedure for the posting of an Estonian defence attaché is underway, and we will make an announcement when the procedures have been completed."

No time to ratify border treaties before elections

"Time is passing, and there is essentially none left until 3 March," Mr Petrov said regarding the incomplete ratification of two border treaties with Estonia. "While I wouldn't like to make predictions that might be misconstrued, resolving this issue that is important to both of us, which would allow us to move forward to concluding other accords, is obviously no longer possible, and will have to be dealt with by the next Estonian parliament."

In accordance with the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act, upon the expiry of the mandate of the Riigikogu, all bills and draft resolutions the proceedings of which were not completed within the mandate of that Riigikogu are dropped from proceedings.

Mr Petrov said on Monday that he would very much like to see things advance in the ratification process. He said that although he has been told that there is considerably greater support in the current Riigikogu for the ratification of the border treaties than there was in 2005, there is no guarantee that a development similar to the one seen in 2005, in which the Riigikogu added to the treaty ratification resolution a reference to the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920, will not repeat itself.

The Russian ambassador made no mention on Monday of the prolonging of the ratification of the treaties in the Duma, however.

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 autumn 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 blames Estonia for creating unsuitable atmosphere

BNS reported in July 2016 that Mr 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 Mr 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 9 May 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."

Mr 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 25 November 2015.

Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid 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.

Responding to a question posed by Estonian daily Postimees at a press conference in Moscow in January, Lavrov said that Russia does not consider it possible to ratify the Estonian-Russian border treaty if Estonia does not stop its Russophobic activity.

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.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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