A message appeared on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry stating that Moscow is reducing the level of diplomatic relations with Estonia.
“In recent years, the Estonian leadership has deliberately destroyed the whole range of relations with Russia. Total Russophobia, the culture of hostility towards our country has been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy”, this is how this move is explained on Smolenskaya Square.
The Estonian ambassador has been ordered to leave Moscow by February 7.
Earlier, Tallinn demanded to cut staff at the Embassy of the Russian Federation from February 1. From now on, in order to achieve parity in the number of employees in the missions of the two countries, there should be no more than eight diplomats and no more than fifteen administrative, technical and service employees.
As noted by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, 21 Estonian diplomats and 23 seconded employees are currently working in Russia.
The correspondent of the Russian service of “Voice of America” tried to find out the background of the diplomatic conflict.
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) Marco Mihkelson (Marko Mihkelson) does not believe that the case can break diplomatic relations between Estonia and Russia.
“As you know, Russia announced a decrease in the level of relations after our government announced that the Russian Embassy in Tallinn and the Russian Embassy in Moscow should work on equal terms, that is, : how many of our diplomats are in Moscow, Russia should have the same figure in Tallinn, ”he explained in an interview with a correspondent of the Russian service Voice of America.
“Even last year, after the events in Bucha and other suburbs of Kiev, the decision was taken to close the General Consulates of Russia in Narva and its branch in Tartu. And the retaliatory measure was the closure of the Consulate General of Estonia in St. Petersburg and the consulate office in Pskov,” Mihkelson recalled.
The Voice of America interlocutor expressed hope that the latest events will not affect the lives of Russian citizens in Estonia and Estonian citizens in Russia. “Embassies will continue to operate, including consular offices. Moreover, this is not the first case of mutual reduction in the number of diplomats from Russia and Western countries. Suffice it to recall the story of the American Embassy in Moscow. Of course, with a reduction in the number of employees of diplomatic missions, queues accumulate in the streets before entering them. But Moscow’s current moves show that it does not want to maintain normal relations with its neighbors. And our position is connected with Russia‘s aggression against Ukraine and those threats against other countries that we constantly hear from the “officers of the propaganda army of Russia“. And we see that Russia is waging a hybrid war against the Western world,” said the Estonian parliamentarian.
At the same time, he points out that such a situation had not been seen since the days of the Cold War.
There has been no official reaction from Brussels yet, notes Mihkelson.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry, he continues, issued an official press release expressing its solidarity with the Estonian position: “On January 23, 2023, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Latvia Mikhail Vanin was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Russian Ambassador was informed about the decision of the Latvian side on February 24, 2023 to lower the level of diplomatic relations with Russia to the level of Chargé d’Affaires. The decision was taken as part of Russia‘s continued large-scale military aggression against Ukraine, launched on February 24, 2022, and in solidarity with Estonia and Lithuania. The Russian Ambassador must leave Latvia by February 24, 2023. The Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to Russia will leave Russia by February 24.
“From now on, the three Baltic countries will only have temporary lawyers in Moscow, and the embassies will work at this level”, explains Marko Mihkelson.
Tallinn political scientist Peter time (Peeter Taim) is surprised that Estonia did not withdraw its ambassador from Moscow on 25th February last.
“As an ordinary citizen of my country, I thought that after the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it was necessary, as Arkady Babchenko wrote, to quickly dig a ditch on the border with Russia, to throw crocodiles there and to erect a very high wall. Because if your neighbor is behaving aggressively, then the normal human reaction is to isolate yourself from him,” the expert said in a conversation with a correspondent from the Russian Voice of America service.
The political scientist says that apart from Lithuania and Latvia, other EU countries are not yet in a hurry to lower the level of diplomatic relations with Russia. “Of course, I’m surprised that Estonia did it so late, but I’m glad that our little, and as the Russians say, ‘aggressive country’ finally formalized the situation diplomatically,” Time said.
He recalls that in many countries of the world there are noticeably more employees of Russian diplomatic missions than there are consular employees of various levels of the corresponding country in the embassy and general consulates on the territory of Russia: “And I was surprised that in a country where there are 31 million cesspools and in half of the regions there is no gas, incredible sums are spent on maintaining diplomatic missions ineffective abroad.
Researcher at the Tallinn International Defense and Security Center (International Center for Defense and Security) Kalev Stoicescu (Kalev Stoicescu) believes that the severance of diplomatic relations between Russia and Estonia would be a last resort, and can only be carried out in the event of a direct war between the two countries.
“So far, that is not the case, and we hope that will not be the case in the future”, underlines the analyst.
The mutual reminder of ambassadors, in his opinion, reflects the fact that there are practically no bilateral relations between Russia and Estonia, and the functions of embassies have been reduced to transmitting operational information to their capitals on what happens in the daily life of the country where the embassies are accredited. And also – to the implementation of certain consular functions.
“And that’s it, because there’s just no mutual cooperation or influence. It is therefore certainly an extraordinary step for diplomatic relations, but not without precedent. And my opinion: if this step is taken, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to put everything back in place as long as the current regime exists in Russia, and no positive changes in the restoration of relations at the level of ambassadors are still visible,” Stoicescu is convinced.
At the same time, while the Estonian Embassy operates in Moscow and the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, they will continue to provide all kinds of assistance to their citizens abroad, including visa assistance. . “So, in this sense, there is no difference between the ambassador and the charge d’affaires”, notes the expert.
Peeter Time points out: “I myself am not aware of any cases involving Estonian citizens in Russia. And I don’t know what our embassy has done to help them. But it is very important to share the fate of Russian citizens in Estonia: one case concerns people who live in Russia, but have currently ended up in our country or in any other EU country. And another case is those who have lived all their life in Estonia, they have property, have permanent residence, they have the right to participate in local elections, but have decided to remain citizens of the Russian Federation. And I can’t imagine with what problems they could turn to the Russian Embassy to solve their problems. And I also can’t imagine those fleeing Putin’s regime here addressing the Russian Embassy. They are more likely to go to police stations and local authorities to solve their problems.
Foreign Minister of Lithuania in 2012-2020 Linas Linkevicius (Linas Linkevičius) recalls that the Lithuanian Ambassador was recalled from Russia in April 2022; at the same time the Russian ambassador left Lithuania.
“I don’t think it pushes for a break in diplomatic relations between countries, it’s already the most extreme measure. In fact, we see that these relations are minimal, in fact, they do not even take place, and it is logical to minimize the representation.In addition, we also have unsubstantiated information that many embassy employees (this happened in Lithuania, it is possible that it also happened in other countries) were engaged in completely different activities under diplomatic cover,” Linkevicius said.