Foreign minister advises against any Russian victory day presidential visit ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu.
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. Source: ERR

Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says while Estonian-Russian relations have many dimensions, with resolving some issues making pragmatic sense, he does not advise president Kersti Kaljulaid visiting Moscow on May 9, Victory Day in Russia. At the time of writing no reported invite has been sent to President Kaljulaid, who visited Moscow in April and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking on ERR channel Vikerraadio's Välistunni broadcast, Reinsalu, himself likely still barred from entry to the Russian Federation, an injunction placed in 2015 on the grounds of "Russophobia", said that issues including the border treaty still not being signed with Russia, the celebration of the occupation of Estonia towards the end of World War Two as a "liberation", and the refusal of Russia to so far return the presidential ceremonial chain worn by Konstatntin Päts, as well as other artifacts, were sticking points.

Päts was president of Estonia 1938-1940, and was deported to the Soviet Union, where he died in captivity in 1956, following the first Soviet Occupation of Estonia.

"Let us also look at the principled debate on the history that we have held, and in recent months, for example, how we understand the anniversary of Estonia's re-occupation, which Russia celebrated as a liberation. That is why I am extremely skeptical that we should consider this visit at the level of the Head of State, if that invitation comes," Reinsalu said.

He also noted that the question of the death and deportation unleashed on Estonia in the wake of both Soviet occupations, in 1940 and 1944, would need to be resolved before more high-level visits and other bilateral relations could take place.

"The killing of tens of thousands of people in the past, the denial of our statehood, the systematic genocide and the violation of our fundamental rights, cannot simply be forgotten nor the responsibilities associated with that either. This does not comply with the principle of moral legitimacy either."

Of hopeful signs for the future, Reinsalu welcomed the electronic visa system which enables Estonian citizens to visit St Petersburg and its environs, saying that such a system could be in place in Estonia's southeastern border with the Russian Federation as well.

The town of Pechory in the Russian Federation, was formerly the Estonian city of Petseri, and making travel across the border in that direction would enable people to, for instance, visit the graves of their antecedents, Reinsalu said.

At the same time, this should not lead to a generalized freedom of travel between the two countries, Reinsalu said.

"If our position on visa liberalization with Russia changes, the answer is no. We do not want visa-free travel."

In general, Reinsalu said that all issues, adding the improvement of rail transport links between the two countries, could not be treated as one homogenous mass. He also noted that while Estonia has significance for Russia in security terms, Russia tends to treat Estonia as part of the EU bloc as a whole.

Reinsalu said that he had once met his Russian Federation counterpart Sergei Lavrov, at an OCSE meeting in Slovakia, adding that it was only a brief encounter. At the same time, looking ahead to Estonia's non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, Reinaslu said he was open to bilateral discussions with Russia, which is a permanent member.

Reinsalu also noted he had been unaware of Kaljulaid's plans to possibly visit Russia, ahead of their being made. On the issue of President Kersti Kaljulaid's invite to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to come to Estonia, Reinsalu said that nothing could be confirmed at present, regardless of rumors abounding that the Russian Embassy in Estonia had already commenced preparations for the technicalities of Putin's plane landing at Tartu Airport.

President Kaljulaid extended the invite to Putin for the VIII World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples, taking place in Tartu this summer.

The long interview is available (in Estonian) here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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