On February 18th the foreign ministers of Estonia and Russia signed a border agreement, the aim of which was, amongst other things, to help normalize frosty, sometimes venomous relations between the two countries.
Don’t bet on that happening say experts who have followed the dynamics of Russian-Estonian diplomatic and political interaction for years. Estonia is still relatively young in spite of the fact that it celebrates 96 years of recognized de jure sovereignty this year. Founded in 1918 the topic of national identity is still a matter of public discourse. The legal continuity of the Republic is to be an integral part of the country’s national identity as is the illegal Soviet occupations, both of which Russia summarily rejects.
De facto independence was brutally interrupted in 1940 when the Soviet armed forces took over the country. After regaining its independence in 1991 Estonia firmly held on to the Tartu Peace Treaty as its ‘birth certificate’ and insisted that internationally it be similarly considered. Estonians vehemently object to Moscow’s claim that it joined the USSR voluntarily, and thereby ceased to exist as a subject of international law. Equally noxious to Estonians is Russian insistence that Estonia became independent by quirky coincidence in 1991.
The Peace Treaty of Tartu, signed in 1920, has been the course setter of the citizenship and border issues which Russia regularly points to as “territorial revisionism” and discrimination of the Russian-speaking minority. (It’s interesting to note that one of the reasons Russia rejects the legitimacy and currency of the Tartu agreement is that it was signed by an entity that long longer exists – the Soviet Union. On the other hand Russia, in both domestic and international context, has claimed that it is the legal successor to the Soviet Union – an outright contradiction in terms.)
After the previous signing of the border treaty in 2005, the Estonian parliament during its ratification process included an addendum to the treaty’s preamble which mentioned the Tartu treaty and the fact of Soviet occupation. On the basis of this addendum, Moscow rescinded its signature and the two sides had to commence from ground zero knowing there were deep divisions in the interpretation of crucial historical items. Although this did not change any of the day-to-day practices of the de facto border, critics claimed that the European Union’s external border was not “complete”. (Pikemalt Eesti Elu 28. veebr. paberlehes või veebil)
Improved relations from border agreement? Not unless there’s agreement on history.