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Russia: Moscow Withdrawing From Treaty With Estonia Over References To 'Occupation'

Russia has announced it is pulling out of a long-awaited border treaty signed in May with Estonia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Estonian parliament has gone back on its promises by ratifying the treaty after adding a preamble that refers to Soviet occupation. Negotiations, he said, will have to start anew.

Moscow, 28 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking yesterday during a brief visit to Helsinki, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared Russia's plan to annul the border treaty it signed on 18 May with Estonia.

"Estonia has not fulfilled its obligations, so we are withdrawing our signature from these [land and sea border] treaties," he said. "Of course, we cannot talk about ratification at this time because there will be no treaties to ratify. In order to resolve border issues between Russia and Estonia, the two sides will have to restart negotiations."

Moscow accuses the Estonian parliament of adding an "untruthful" preamble to the treaty before ratifying it.

The introduction contains indirect references to the Soviet occupation of Estonia after the World War II, using expressions such as "aggression by the Soviet Union" and "illegal incorporation by the Soviet Union." Moscow has refused to label the five-decade Soviet stay in the Baltics as occupation, saying Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania willingly joined the Soviet Union.

Estonia argues that the preamble did not change the terms of the treaty, which officially fixes land and sea borders between Russia and Estonia.

The Russian parliament has not yet ratified the treaty, which needs to be approved by both countries' parliaments to come into force.
Estonia was the second of the three Baltic states, after Lithuania, to sign a border pact with Russia. Difficult negotiations are under way with Latvia.

The border accord, under negotiation for almost a decade, has severely strained ties between the two countries. Russia had previously refused to sign it for many years, while Estonia had demanded that the border with Russia be determined according to a 1920 agreement. This agreement attributed to Estonia some territories that were subsequently handed over to the Soviet Union after World War II.

Andrei Kozyrev served as Russian foreign minister from 1990 to 1995. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, he said Moscow had good reasons to nullify the treaty. "In this case, today's Russia cannot and will not hold any financial and legal responsibility for Stalin's policy in the Soviet Union," he said. "On the one hand, I can understand [the Estonians] from a political point of view, but from a legal point of view, one should not drag this into the text of an international agreement."

The breakdown in the talks highlights Russia's poor relations with the Baltic states, which joined the European Union and NATO last year. Yesterday, Lavrov said he hopes the dispute will not affect Russia's ties with the rest of the European Union.

Elkond Libman is the editor of the Estonian business weekly "Delovye vedomosti." He says it is difficult to predict what will happen to the treaty now. "It's very difficult to say for now, because Estonia's Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has declared that he doesn't see any reason to once more submit to parliament a bill on the ratification of the border treaty with Russia, that Estonia has done everything it could, and that the ball is in Russia's court," Libman said.

Estonia was the second of the three Baltic states, after Lithuania, to sign a border pact with Russia. Difficult negotiations are under way with Latvia. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently described Latvia's border claims as "total nonsense."

The Baltic states are not the only countries working to sign border treaties with their Russian neighbor. Russia so far has signed border agreements with China and Ukraine, and is currently negotiating an agreement with Kazakhstan.

Dmitrii Trenin, an expert at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says Russia's efforts to officially demarcate its borders with its many neighbors are part of a Kremlin campaign to consolidate the country's territorial integrity. "Russia's territorial integrity and its sovereignty on all its territory are President Vladimir Putin's most important values," he said. "To obtain such sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia needs fixed agreements with its neighbors. This is part of Putin's policy to build the state."

Russia's support of the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, could hinder the signature of a border deal with Tbilisi. A treaty delimiting the border between Russia and Georgia was drafted prior to Mikheil Saakashvili's rise to power in 2003. But the border treaty has not placed high on the agenda of the new Georgian president, who has pledged to bring the two breakaway provinces back under Georgia's control.

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