Leading article: Don't let Russia bully the Baltics
Published: 30 April 2007
One dead, hundreds arrested and the danger of more trouble to come. It's not what we have come to expect of Estonia, better known to Britons as a playground and a place to buy property. Some will shake their heads, the phrase "far-off country of which we know little" coming to mind. We should resist that temptation. Like it or not, the expansion of the European Union to the Baltic states means Estonia's crisis with Russia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from the centre of Tallin is our concern, too. You wouldn't know that, however, from the evasive murmurs coming out of Brussels and Germany, the current holder of the EU presidency.
We have had the strange spectacle of the EU nodding with apparent respect as Vladimir Putin's ministers lecture Estonia on civil rights. This is hypocrisy on a grand scale, given Russia's treatment of its unhappy Chechens and its rough handling of recent anti-government protests in Moscow and St Petersburg.
One might have expected officials from Brussels and Berlin to point out the discrepancy between the standards Russia that applies to its own minorities and those it demands of others. Instead, we have had Angela Merkel talking soothingly to Mr Putin on the telephone and urging restraint on Estonia.
This is the proverbial road to hell paved with good intentions. Indulging Russia's imperial attitudes towards the Baltic states, which it invaded in 1940 and ruled harshly for the next half-century, is not going to get us anywhere. We merely are feeding Moscow's appetite to re-establish influence over those former Soviet republics that it revealingly refers to as the "near abroad".
By striking an even posture between tiny Estonia and its former masters in Russia over the question of what Estonia does with its own war memorials, Europe is giving Russia a green light to interfere further. It is an assumed right that it will not hesitate to exercise.
Russia's new-found confidence when it comes to meddling in European affairs is not confined to the Baltics. The West's peace plan for Kosovo, which offers that troubled region its best-ever hope of a settlement, is about to founder on the rock of Russia's opposition. Possibly, there is not much than anyone can do about that; the plan has to go to the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a member. But Europe's feeble response to this threat has only encouraged Russia to dig in its heels.
From the Baltics to the Balkans, there seems to be a pattern; of a newly assertive and oil-rich Russia pushing hard at a door that Europe has carelessly left ajar. We shall see whether this does either region much good. So far, the auguries are not promising.
The Independent leading article: Don't let Russia bully the Baltics (10)