Estonian residents are obtaining Russian citizenship at nearly twice the rate they are claiming Estonian citizenship, according to figures released today.
Eesti Päevaleht reported that the Russian embassy in Tallinn had granted Russian citizenship to 3,700 people during the last twelve months, while Estonian government figures showed that 1,600 people had acquired Estonian citizenship since January this year.
The newspaper quoted Russian embassy spokesman Maxim Kozlov who said 'Estonia is one of the leading places in the world in terms of adoption of Russian citizenship.'
In the build-up to the August war between Georgia and Russia, there was a widely-reported surge in the number of Russian passports being given to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as Russia claimed the right to protect its passport-holders abroad.
Subsequently, international attention has been directed at other countries with significant Russian populations and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has even suggested 'the Baltics will be next.'
While there is no evidence Russia is planning any intervention in Estonia, which is an EU and NATO member, the disparity between the application rates is significant because the news comes just one day after the Estonian government decided to launch a campaign entitled 'It is good to be an Estonian citizen.'
Part of the initiative will see officials of the Citizenship and Migration Board visiting schools in ethnically Russian areas to tell children about the benefits of Estonian citizenship.
Around one quarter of Estonia's 1.3 million population is ethnically Russian, including more than 100,000 'non-citizens', who have resident status but no passport.
Citizenship issues remain a thorny subject in Estonia and its southern neighbour, Latvia, both of which have significant Russian minorities.
Last year, reports from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the United Nations which were critical of Estonia's stance regarding its stateless residents sparked a furious response in the tiny Baltic nation.
Estonian popular opinion is that the country is still battling to reclaim its identity fully after decades of forced 'Russification' during the Soviet period, while Moscow claims its compatriots are subject to unfair discrimination.
Residents applying for Russian rather than Estonian citizenship (8)