U.S.-Baltic Foundation

Estonia Government BuildingUSBF voices concern over the Russian bullying of Estonia

Estonia, after 50 years of occupation by Soviet and Russian forces, is once again having its independence endangered by threats and pressure from Russia, causing concern to supporters of freedom.  Moscow’s attempt to mobilize ethnic Russian and European pressure on an independent Estonia reflects a pattern of increasing interference in the internal affairs of the Baltic States, now members of the European Union and NATO.  The protests began peacefully by ethnic-Russians living in Estonia who allegedly opposed the movement of a Soviet war memorial and 12 entombed graves to a proper burial site in a military cemetery. Moscow quickly began using its control of the Russian media and parliament to promote rioting by ethnic Russians in Estonia and to create a false image in Europe of democracy in Estonia.

The Kremlin’s campaign against Estonia is consistent with the Putin Government’s nostalgia for Soviet control over the Baltic States and its attempts to limit the sovereignty of its Central European neighbors.  The USBF believes that the Government of the United States and of Europe should publicly and materially oppose Moscow’s attempt to undermine Estonia’s independence.  The present anti-Estonian campaign of the Kremlin is too reminiscent of the pressure brought to bear on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1939 as result of the secret protocols in the MRP between Soviet Russia and Germany.  It is time for the U.S. and Europe to take a strong stand against this blatant example of Russia again trying to bully and intimidate a small democratic and Western-oriented neighbor.

During the past year, the Russian Duma has tried to influence parliamentary elections in Estonia and the Putin Government refuses to sign a border agreement with Estonia.  A delegation from the Duma that came to Estonia for discussions about moving the statue, called for the removal of Estonian Prime Minister Ansip, even before leaving Moscow.  The Russian Government and media have attempted to mobilize international support and the Russian minority in Estonia to support its campaign of intimidation.

In late April, the Estonian embassy in Moscow was besieged by demonstrators, resulting in all family members of embassy personnel being evacuated to Estonia. Estonia’s information technology infrastructure was infiltrated by cyber attacks originating from the Kremlin, including President Putin’s office.  An increasingly authoritarian Russian Government is attempting to portray democratic Estonia as fascist and insensitive to the memory of Russian war dead.  Estonians are sensitive to the need to honor war dead, and the transfer of the monument in question was carried out in a dignified manner.  The Russians themselves have moved WW II monuments, and in a less honorable and transparent way than that conducted by the Estonian Government. 

The Russian government, which has been so quick to disperse pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, is unwilling to enforce its responsibilities under international law to protect Estonian diplomats, carry out its trade and commerce agreements with its Estonia and to honor the right of a small neighboring state to conduct its own internal affairs.   

Mr. Linas Kojelis, founder of USBF and its president until 1997, recalls that this organization was established in 1990 with an expectation that Russian-Baltic relations would most likely remain problematic for decades into the future.  Among USBF’s founding principles was that it be a home for all Americans who wish to strengthen Estonian and Baltic-American ties.  “Active and strong Baltic-American people-to-people ties is one of the best ways to ensure respect for the sovereignty of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by its ‘adventuresome’ eastern neighbor,” stated Mr. Kojelis.   

The USBF fully agrees with the plea of Estonian President Thomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia to Russia, “ to try to remain civilized.”  We call on Americans and Europeans to defend the independence, territorial sovereignty and freedom of Estonians and its Baltic neighbors against this latest and most blatant act of neo-imperialism on the part of Russia.