The Change in MFA Leadership Will Not Help Estonia Mend Relations With Russia

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Источник изображения: rus.postimees.ee

The new head of the Estonian MFA Marina Kaljurand, in her own words, is ready to go to Moscow in order to meet her Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov and with the oft demonized in Estonia president Vladimir Putin. However, judging by Kaljurand’s stance on the more serious issues of Russia-Estonia relations in recent years, Tallinn’s East European policy will only get some cosmetic repair under the new head of diplomacy.

“Russian minister”

Marina Kaljurand assumed office on 15 July after the previous scandal-ridden minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus resigned. The local media immediately started saying: the new minister is Russian! What will this mean for relations with the big neighbor? And verily so, as the minister admitted herself, she doesn’t have a single drop of Estonian blood in her. For a country that is vigorously fighting for its Estonian national identity and carefully safeguarding its “Estonianess” this appointment seems surprising. Kaljurand’s maiden name is Raevskaya. Her mother is Russian, while her father is Latvian. She always points out that she was raised by her mother, so she identifies as Russian everywhere. Speaks Russian without an accent and her resume lists Russian and not Estonian as her native language. She eagerly talks to Russian-speaking media and frequently gives interviews in Russian.

Kaljurand is 52, she graduated from the law faculty of Tartu University. Later she studied in Finland, USA and UK. She was part of government delegations on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia under the agreement on Russo-Estonian border. Border talks lasted for ten years, with the agreement finally complete in 2004, but the Estonian parliament rephrased it to their liking during ratification, adding clauses on “Soviet occupation”. Russia instantly recalled its signature. Ten more years passed and Kaljurand, now in a new office, is hoping to once again raise the issue of this agreement in the government and parliament, in order to move the border issue from its dead end. She also worked in the Estonian delegation of EU Accession and OECD.

Over the span of a few years, Kaljurand managed to be an ambassador to six countries. First, she was the ambassador to Israel, then three years of being an ambassador in Moscow (2006-2008), while simultaneously representing Estonian interests in Kazakhstan. After that, Kaljurand radically changed her regional specialty and went on to be an ambassador in USA, along with being an ambassador to Canada and Mexico. Until recently, she was in the MFA as a vice-chancellor on legal and consul issues.

Marina Kaljurand is no typical “Russian Estonian”. In 2008, during an interview to Echo of Moscow an interesting detail was revealed: her mother was born in 1925 and remembered pre-war Estonia perfectly, something she told her daughter about in detail. So even among Russians, to Estonians Kaljurand is more “theirs” than the ones “who came later”. Memories of pre-war Estonia are reflected on her views on the Russian-speaking minority. “That is why it is a huge difference between Russians who lived in Estonia for centuries and Soviets, who were shipped her, or who came here during the occupation, whose views may differ slightly,” said Kaljurand year ago in interview to Voice of America. The position of the Russian-speaking minority she explained as thus: I am Russian, I speak Russian with my mother and I don’t need protection (word-for-word like the argument Ukrainian PM Yatsenyuk likes to use: my wife talks to me in Russian, and she doesn’t need protection). So, ambassador Kaljurand when meeting Russian parliamentaries talks of successes in the national minority issue, talking of the steady decrease of “non-citizen” percentages. And she wished that other “non-citizens” walked the known path – learn Estonian and integrated the sooner, the better.

Reward for fighting the USSR

Nevertheless, as an Estonian ambassador to Moscow Kaljurand was most remembered for her role around the Bronze Soldier incident in April 2007. The Estonian government passed the War Graves Protection Act, according to which they decided to relocate the Soviet monument to the Liberators of Tallinn from the center of the city on Tõnismägi hill two kilometers – to the outskirts – the military cemetery on Filtri street. Mass riots broke out in Tallinn. In Moscow, activists of a number of youth movements organized protests against Estonia and against Kaljurand personally. This was one of the first cases, where Estonia tried to draw Europe’s attention to the evil and dangerous Russia threatening its sovereignty. It was declared that the protests of the “Nashi” movement near the Estonian embassy were an attack on the European Union. Reserved Estonian politicians aimed to make a point of the fact that they only wanted relocate the monument and reinter the remains in a proper manner, so they wouldn’t be buried in a public place, but in a respective cemetery, along with the other Soviet soldiers.

Kaljurand chose a different tactic. Traveling in those turbulent times from one press conference to another, the ambassador kept repeating that the relocation of the Bronze Soldier was some sort of noble mission to save it, bring back its initial – memorial – meaning. In her words, the problem of the Bronze Soldier is that it stopped being a monument long ago, and turned into an arena for political confrontation between various extremists and radicals. Periodically the trolley stop if visited by people with a red flag and shouting something about the USSR and this is bad. And then Estonian radicals join in and this is also bad. This is why, instead of trying to quell the radicals from both sides, it was easier to just remove the monument, which is exactly what was done. And whether the monument was a symbol of occupation, the ambassador either confirmed it or was dodging the question: “It is not so simple”.

Among other things, Kaljurand recklessly doubted whether there were military graves on Tõnismägi at all. The Russian side’s statements she rebuffed as speculations. She cited certain unnamed historians, who wrote that it was a site not of Soviet soldiers, but seven marauders. Later, the Russian version was confirmed: Estonians found the remains of Soviet soldiers, identified them and reinterred them on the new site. Despite the fact that influential Estonian newspaper Postimees called Kaljurand “Person of the Year” for her resolve during the “bronze events”, the former ambassador prefers not to recall this event, thinking of it as just another episode during her three years in Moscow.

“Russia trusts might”

The new minister will continue the course of her predecessors, who were in favor of American bases in Estonia. In September 2014, Kaljurand, with open subservience, spoke of Barack Obama’s visit. She shared her joy, that the American president gave a whole 11 hours of his attention to Estonia and was proud that he praised Estonia’s reforms. The journalists then wondered on why create permanent American bases on Estonian soil? Then-MFA Urmas Paet excluded the realization of a “Ukrainian scenario” in the Baltics. Kaljurand added: first off, the NATO bases won’t consist of just Americans, but Estonians as well. Second, Germany also has huge NATO bases and nothing happens. Geopolitics demand it.

The direct question of whether they should be teasing the bear, she replied: “Russia trusts might, so it is normal”.

Kaljurand is convinced that Putin refuses to see Estonia as an independent state. Russia’s goals are to restore imperial influence on all territories with Russians, in one way or another. Views on Ukraine fit into the Estonian mainstream. Although, sometimes Kaljurand did make news on the Ukrainian front, stating for example that: “We have to show them we are not going to impose any outside decisions over the heads of the Ukrainian people, like what happened in Yalta [after WWII]” Does this mean that the Western allies should have been vying for Ukrainian independence during the Yalta conference in February 1945?

A new package for the old

Estonian media has seen some instructions for the new MFA from entrepreneurs, who are hinting that the investors really don’t want to invest into a country, that is constantly screaming about the threat of attack from Russia. However, Kaljurand’s views on Estonia’s economic losses from the sanctions and anti-sanctions is ambiguous. During the 2007 crisis, a number of Russian retailers called for a boycott of Estonian good. Kaljurand the said that Russia is only one-tenth of Estonia’s commercial exchange, so nothing bad will happen. The complaints of current Estonian businessmen (Estonian milk export to Russia along was 24%) went unheard by Kaljurand. She waved it off: every democracy has a price. “And this is a price we have to pay if we want Russia to make its conclusions and so this would never happen again.” And so far there hasn’t been any cause to lift the sanctions.

Estonian MFA was still far behind on aggressive rhetoric when compared to its Baltic colleagues Edgars Rinkēvičs and Linas Linkevičius

So in the end, we can at least expect that with Kaljurand as MFA, Estonia’s statements won’t be as extravagant as Lithuania’s and Latvia’s, both in tone and in content.

Kaljurand will try to use her old connections to Russian statesmen, which she developed during her service in Moscow. Maybe even restore some of the image practices like visiting press centers of Russian “propagandist” media in order to give weighty interviews and visit round tables with Russian parliamentaries. However, even these past achievements probably won’t help her secure a meeting with any high-ranking statesman in Moscow, not even mentioning Sergey Lavrov or Vladimir Putin – the MFA’s head of the specialized department will probably be as high as Kaljurand can get. In Moscow, they all know that there is nothing to talk about – in essence, the position of Estonia’s MFA remains the same, along with the fact that it is decided not in Tallinn itself. As the minister herself said on the Aktual’naya Kamera show: “Our relations are very conceptual. And here, is where I think, my personal effort won’t affect anything.”

Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.

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