By Vladimir Socor

While Latvia and Estonia push for closure, the Russian side is raising the ante ahead of the EU-Russia summit, calculating to use this issue as leverage to extract Latvian concessions on other issues, such as changing Latvia’s legislation on citizenship and language. As the summit draws closer and its results look uncertain, the EU’s Luxembourg chairmanship has announced that it is talking to both Russia and Latvia on those ethnic issues of concern to Russia. For its part, the European Commission in Brussels states through two of its spokespersons that the situation with the border agreement “is a bilateral question between Latvia and Russia;” that it does not wish to prejudge the outcome of a bilateral negotiation; and “would very much like this issue to be sorted out by the time of the summit” (AP, Reuters, April 26; AFP, BNS, April 29).Informally, however, Brussels is in contact with both Moscow and Riga to ensure that they resolve the issue without official EU involvement. This stance bespeaks the EU’s immediate goal to avoid anything that would “spoil the show” at the EU-Russia summit in Moscow. Beyond that, however, it also reflects some of the EU member countries’ incipient tendency to defer to Russia on issues of concern to third countries — in this case, an EU member country. Thus, when the Russia-France-Germany-Spain summit in April discussed Russia-Baltic issues, the Baltic states were kept in the dark, and a Baltic diplomat who requested information was referred to a web homepage, as Estonia’s Toomas Ilves recounts the episode (BNS, April 30).

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is artificially raising the anxiety level, charging that Latvia’s legal-continuity declaration amounts to “territorial claims” against Russia and violates the EU-Russia partnership and cooperation agreement. Moscow warns that it would not sign the Border Agreement unless Latvia withdraws the interpretative declaration. (Interfax, April 28, 29).

Estonia’s situation is somewhat similar to Latvia’s regarding the overdue signing of a bilateral border agreement with Russia. The Estonia-Russia border agreement was initialed in 1999, after Estonia had accepted to drop from the draft the items that Russia found objectionable. But Moscow has stonewalled the signing, for the same reasons as it did with Latvia, and using similar pretexts, despite Estonia’s insistence on having the document signed. On April 26, Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would welcome an invitation for Minister Urmas Paet to sign the treaty with his Russian counterpart on in Moscow on May 10; or, failing that, to sign it “any time, any place” (BNS, April 26). Paet’s immediate predecessor, Rein Lang, had spoken up in the same vein in recent months.

On April 27, Estonia protested against the violation of the country’s air space on April 23 by Russian Air Force planes. Registered by the Air Sovereignty Center at Amari, it was the fourth such incident since November 2004, and first in 2005. Most of these incidents — as well as earlier ones — have occurred over Estonian islands and involved Russian military planes en route to the Kaliningrad exclave. Estonian analysts regard these recurring incidents as part of a nerve-testing game, the probability of technical errors being extremely low. (BNS, Interfax, April 25-28)