May 02, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Konstantin Cheremnykh


The Russian-Estonian crisis in the global context

The scarce and factional response to the April 27 events in Tallinn, Estonia, where Prime Minister Andrus Ansip initiated an arbitrary excavation and transfer of the remains of WWII soldiers from the Tonismagi hill, reflects something more than misjudgment or poor vision.

Political developments in a small Estonia, the easternmost member of the EU mostly known as one of the hubs for export of raw materials as well as international smuggling operations, could be fairly overlooked by the world's media audience. Though Estonia's incumbent rightists regard themselves as a special "white race" (as Tonis Palts, Mayor of Tallinn, declared in 2005), the country enjoys so little concern in the world community that in one of the most renowned encyclopedic editions, its president was confused with the leader of Ethiopia.

Still, the events in Tallinn on April 26-27 affect not only Estonia, as a former USSR republic, and not only Russia, as USSR's official successor. The dismantlement of Estonia's central war memorial is an assault on the whole generation of the Europeans, whose political, cultural and physical existence was once put under question by the Nazi regime.



The coverage of the Tallinn scandal in US and European press neglects the preceding events: particularly, the propagandist campaign for the replacement of the war memorial, launched by the Prime Minister and his colleagues from what is regarded the "rightist alliance" of Estonian parties; the response from other political forces, including not only war veterans but the most influential Centrist Party of Estonia; warnings of probable ethnic clashes, foreseen already in November by Centrist Party's chair, then-Economy Minister Edgar Savisaar; a violent 'rightist" media campaign against Savisaar and then-President Arnold Rüütel; the presidential elections, in which a US-educated Toomas Henryk Ilves became the winner; a new curve of the militant pro-replacement campaign after the Parliamentary elections, in which the Centrist Party and its allies was defeated by a 1% margin; the selection of a new government, picked exceptionally from figures with a long-time anti-Russian reputation.

In mid-February 2007, the outcome of the discussions around the memorial's future was not yet clear. At that time, a number of protests from international organizations of war veterans, shared by esteemed politicians and scholars around the globe, as well as such top clerical figures as Roman Catholic Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, forced the newly-elected President to make a step back. On February 13, Toomas Henryk Ilves expressed doubts over the correspondence of the new parliamentary legislation on "unlawful graves" to the state's constitution; those doubts were shared also by another US-picked Baltic leader, Lithuania's president Valdis Adamkus.

However, the issue was picked up again a month later, without any significant domestic pretext. In the middle of March, rumors that the memorial may be pulled down yet before the V-Day appear in Estonian media. Following the international media context of this time, one easily notices the coincidence of new tensions around the memorial with the debate around the key Russian-German economic project – the North Stream gas pipeline, which becomes the subject of a high-level "environmental" conference in Helsinki. Right at that time, local Russian media quote the unprecedentedly harsh statement of Marianne Mikko, representative of Finland's Social Democratic Party in the European Parliament. This lady labels the pipeline project "a new Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact", declaring that "each kilowatt of energy which is not purchased by us (Europeans) from non-democratic states is a contribution into international security".

This Cold War rhetoric sounds on the background of the unofficial summit of heads of "parliamentary European states" in Riga, where a selected circle of politicians, dominated by Poland's Prime Minister, denounces the "weakness" of those countries, namely Hungary and Latvia, which agree for "strategic concessions" with Russia's Gazprom and negligence of the "interests of Europe's energy independence".

Right at this time, Estonia's rightist government undertakes an effort to revise its sea borderline, extending it to the zone of the pipeline's route. This attempt of arbitrary revision of geography could seem ridiculous if it did not coincide with a number of other arbitrary initiatives, ensuing in a number of countries involved in transport of oil and gas from Russia to Western Europe Ц namely, in Ukraine and Turkey, simultaneously with direct diplomatic pressure for EU's "energy diversification" from the top level of the US Department of State (best exemplified with the "whipping" received by Commissar Andris Piebalgs from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the Nabucco pipeline project).

Meanwhile, the Russian side expressed its commitment to resume the construction of the pipeline since May. As soon as this decision is made public, the campaign around the memorial abruptly intensifies. In April, Estonia's government initiates the excavation of the remains of the war martyrs, this time neglecting any protests from institutions and individuals. The demonstrative activity of officials and police is followed with blatantly offensive, provocative statements of Andrus Ansip, who publicly suggests that the martyrs of war are "maybe alcoholics".

At the same time, Estonian MPs use the tribunes of European institutions for expressing "concern" over the brutality of Russian police against the "Dissenters' March", launched, with no special pretext, on April 14-15 in Moscow and St. Petersburg by "Another Russia" organization, involving the disgrace ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and chess-player Garry Kasparov. The founding congress of this artificially synthesized rightist-leftist alliance, timed to the G-8 summit of 2006, was visited in Moscow by top political and diplomatic figures, representing both political parties of the United States.

At the same time, the dominating Estonian coalition, unifying the rightist Fatherland Party and Reformist Party, and the nominal leftist Social Democratic Party (which endorsed Toomas Henryk Ilves on the background of a demagogic anti-corruption campaign), initiates a cadre reshuffle in the state-run economic authorities, ousting the figures associated with the Centrist Party and its allies.



The indifference of politicians and the unawareness of top media are only ostensible. Actually, Estonia has been in the focus of top Western analytical, expert and intelligence circles since 1980s until today. Paul Goble, an influential political manager and author, is now teaching at the University of Tartu. The director of this university, Jaak Aaviksoo, was picked by the triumphant "rightist" government for the post of Minister of Defense; Andrus Ansip himself is a former instructor of the Tartu District's Communist Party Committee.

The elevation of Tartu cadres after Ilves's success is natural: Tartu used to serve as the major safe haven for Soviet-time dissident thinkers; was the place where Dzhokhar Dudayev served in the Soviet Air Forces, before being elevated to the role of Chechnya's nationalist leader; in January 1991, the Unrepresented Nations Organization (UNPO) deployed its first headquarters in the USSR exactly in this town.

Paul Goble, in his article in Eesti Päevaleht in mid-April, displayed perfect knowledge of the Russian and Estonian political scene, as well as the economic background of the Moscow-Tallinn relationship. He indicated that the Moscow establishment is divided over Estonia into two factions, some persons Ц like Defense minister Sergey Ivanov and Kremlin Staff's Culture Advisor Modest Kolerov, are following a "hawkish" line vis-a-vis Estonia, while Duma member Konstantin Kosachov and traders like Tarcona International's owner Gennady Timchenko, prefer a "mild approach". Days before the scandal, he added that the "hawkish" side, personified by Kolerov, is going to be purged by Vladimir Putin.

Such kind of a version is more than a version: it is a typical media operation. The implied message, addressed to the flight-forward Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (whose political ideal, according to Estonian media, is Nicholas Sarkozy), was that the risk, undertaken by him in the excavation experiment, does not represent any real menace for Estonia's policy and economy Ц as Russia's interest in Estonian ports would prevail over any historical and cultural grudges. He was thus encouraged to start, and to overlook the consequences.

However, on April 26, in his annual Address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin displayed reluctance for a "mild approach". In his speech, he mentioned the Baltic States twice: firstly, indicating that none of them joined the CFE Treaty, and secondly, inquiring his Government for the reasons of using "foreign ports for exports of Russian commodities", on the contrary to his own earlier directives.

Warning that Russia is about to abandon the Treaty, Putin clearly expressed disobedience to the unipolar world model, clearer than in his earlier speech at the Security Conference in Munich. For persons like Andrus Ansip, this demonstration of disobedience could serve, almost automatically, as a pretext for a perfectly obedient behavior. Facing a choice between a retreat and offensive, he chose the latter. The fact that on the next day, Latvia's Constitutional Court denounced the recently signed border agreements with Moscow, still suggests that both governments received a direct instruction for flight-forward anti-Moscow behavior.



The reaction from the Estonian citizens of various ethnic origin, age and education, as well as from the official and public Russia, was obviously stronger than Mr. Ansip could expect: as soon as the monument was pulled down, thousands of people attacked the policemen, initiating a street revolt, much reminding the 2005 unrest in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The police, lacking manpower and facilities, had to use port terminals for incarcerating the captured demonstrators, while two persons were killed and dozens injured in street clashes.

Later, Estonian officials estimated the ensuing damage in 50 million krons ($25 million). However, these costs were only a small portion of the economic trouble. During the next days, websites of Estonian government institutions were paralyzed by hacker attacks; memorials of Nazi veterans were smashed across the country; street traffic was paralyzed as well; in Moscow, the "Nashi" movement's youth blocked the entrance to the Estonian embassy, declaring that it should be also "excavated", and smashing the car of a Swedish diplomat.

The interpretation of the unrest and its implications as not more than "marauding" and complaints of "manipulation from outside" did not much convince the domestic opposition: on the next day, the city traffic was repeatedly paralyzed by auto drivers, deafening the police with hoots. Eventually, the Government authorities were forced to promptly re-assemble the memorial (sawn into parts for easier transportation) at the Military Cemetery in Filtri Tee, already by April 30. Still, the political agitation did not calm down in both Moscow and Tallinn.

The "non-constructive" behavior of the enraged crowd was used Ц as it was foreseen Ц as a pretext for complaints to various EU and NATO institutions. Though the expected satisfaction was gained, Russia being blamed for violation of the Vienna Convention, the economic toll, faced by Estonia, appears to be far larger than its government could expect. Moreover, it is increasing with every anti-Russian speech of Ansip and his people Ц not only because of Kremlin's political response. From the top political level, the protest against the desecration of war graves descended to the level of public, spreading like fire in a dry forest.

During the next week, Russian tourism in Estonia collapsed by 80%; programs of border cooperation were stalled; the project of a new bridge across Narva River, arranged earlier by the Centrist Party's leader (then-Economy Minister) Edgar Savisaar, was doomed.

The appeal of Vice Premier Sergey B. Ivanov to neglect Estonian goods, made public a week before the pulldown of the memorial, did not seem to inspire the Russians. However, after Andrus Ansip accomplished his exhumation initiative, Russian traders introduced sabotage of Estonian goods without any prompts from Moscow. One of the popular St. Petersburg food chain networks, Dixi, by 23% owned by Estonian businessman Hilar Teder, issued a special public statement, denouncing the monument's destruction.

On May 2, a five-wagon cargo of crude oil, disguised as fuel oil and destined for export via the port of Sillamäe, Estonia, was confiscated at the border customs in Ivangorod; on the same day's evening, Russian Railroads Concern suspended shipments of oil products to Estonian ports. The Russian Government authorized additional investments in the infrastructure of Ust Luga port in Leningrad Region. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, at the regular meeting of the State Council in Murmansk, focused on use of existing and new port facilities for exports of both coal and oil products.

Paul Goble, in his lip service effort for the rightist government of Estonia, relied upon the potential of corruption and nepotism, and to relevant rumors on "compromat" (discrediting information) websites about heavy involvement of Vladimir Putin's personal friends in business circles in trade across Estonia.

It was no secret that Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railroads Concern, once studied at secondary school in Parnu, Estonia. It is equally true that Gennady Timchenko and Andrey Katkov (one of the two top investors in Sillamäe), have also co-invested in the judo club where Vladimir Putin was once trained, and where he sometimes received his foreign guests. However, in the new situation, these personal connections only allow the President to re-direct trade via Russian ports more efficiently.

Already on April 27 evening, hours after the first response from Russia's (supposedly "dovish") Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Severstal, Russia's second largest metallurgic company, sold its stake in Severstaltrans, the major trading facility for both metals and oil products via Estonia, to its managers. Shortly afterwards, Maxim Liksutov, a citizen of Estonia and the second largest business figure of this country, declared that he is going to re-register his powerful international cargo transport corporation, Transgroup Invest AS, in some other European country.

Paul Goble told lies to the rightist Estonian establishment. Moscow is too evidently reluctant to be snubbed and to keep itself in a framework of dependence through corruption. The view that Russia has no alternatives to Estonia's transit infrastructure, is incorrect. The present deterioration of Russian-Estonian economic and infrastructure partnership will cost Estonia much more than any other involved side Ц while for Russia, the demonstratively offending behavior of Estonia's leadership turns a powerful impetus for new infrastructure building. So, the answer to the question "who benefits?" is positive for anybody but Tallinn.

On May 2, Edgar Savisaar, today the Mayor of Tallinn, denounced the excessive activity of Russian demonstrators around Estonia's embassy in Moscow, saying that in this way, they are just helping Andrus Ansip to keep afloat. This complaint is not surprising: unlike Sõõrumaa or Liksutov, who can successfully redirect their business to Russia, the chairman of the Centrist party is faced with a narrow and desperate political choice. His complaints sound naive: the 100 per cent political domination of the rightist coalition is not going to yield power to the opponents.

In order to keep afloat, the Estonian rightists are likely to follow (and already following) not even the Polish but the Georgian model of a small and angry colonial tyranny, ideologically based on the image of a victim. Being uninterested in any political competition, they are likely to stir not only ethnic but also confessional tensions Ц namely, between the Moscow- and Constantinople-oriented Orthodox Orthodox Christian communities. In its turn, the decline of investments is likely to be instrumentalized for forcing the Russian-speaking population around former Soviet industrial facilities to leave the country, making Estonia more ethnically homogenous, and thus, more manageable. This design does not offer any political opportunity for Edgar Savisaar and his "survivalist" partners.



In the period of Arnold Rüütel's tenure, when Edgar Savisaar headed the Ministry of Economy, Russian investments in Estonia were blossoming. The development of those friendly ties, with managerial and personal involvement of Vladimir Yakunin, Russia's Transport Minister Igor Levitin (ex-deputy general director of Severstaltrans), as well as private business, associated with the Centrist Party and the Popular Union, served as a powerful impetus for development of Estonia's economy and social infrastructure. Urmas Sõõrumaa, the major financial backer of the Centrist Party, spent millions of charity donations for upgrading the system of secondary education and medical services. The activity of Tiit Vahi, former Prime Minister of Estonia and a longtime partner of Savisaar, created thousands of new jobs in the ethnic Russian-dominated eastern regions of Estonia.

This promising development of Russian-Estonian ties allowed Tallinn to serve as a major international hub and a major trade gateway between Russia and Western Europe. The fact that the "North Stream" pipeline circumvented Estonia and other Baltic states, was not an obstacle for this crucial role.

The ascent of Toomas Henryk Ilves, and the energetic flight-forward efforts of what should be identified now as the Tartu clan, were targeting not only the bilateral political ties, as well as the Russian-German gas transport project, but the basic economic and social prospects of Estonia. The major underlying pretext for the political and media attack on Rüütel and Savisaar in autumn 2006 was definitely embedded in the foreign policy priorities of the coalition of the Centrist Party and the Popular Union, which insisted, in particular, that the Estonian military should not participate in NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They wanted to punish Estonia's "pragmatic" political and economic community for their pro-Russian and (most significantly) pro-German orientation. However, the heaviest toll is going to be paid by ordinary citizens of Estonia. The overtake of power by the rightists, whose economic management skills are doubted even by rabid anti-Russian ex-Premier Mart Laar, has undermined lots of joint projects not only in trade, tourism and cultural exchange but also in metallurgy, petrochemistry, transport and city infrastructure.

The assault on the Bronze Soldier in Tonismagi, Tallinn, "mysteriously" coincided with another internationally significant act of subversion, this time in the sphere of religion and culture, and not less related to the complicated history of the XX century than the issue of war memorials.

The above described economic cooperation between Russia and Estonia, especially during the last four years, regularly involved the Russian Orthodox Church. Visiting Estonia, where he was once started his service, Patriarch Alexy II met with President Ruutel, speaking with him in both Russian and Estonian language.

Could it be accidental that exactly on April 27, on the very day when the "Bronze Soldier", labeled as a "symbol of Soviet occupation", was removed from Tonismagi hill, a number of Moscow-issued mass media spread a fraudulent rumor about the poor state of health of the Patriarch.

The gossip that Alexy II has experienced a severe heart attack and hospitalized in Switzerland for urgent cardiac surgery, even experiencing a clinical death, was spread by the Echo of Moscow Ц the very agency which was earlier instrumental in the "human right-protecting" coverage of the "Dissenters' March", launched by the openly US-endorsed Another Russia team. Returning to Moscow on May 1, the 81-year-old Patriarch made his personal comments on the disinformation. The Patriarch, as well as other top ROC clergymen, believes that the real intention of the gossip writers was to undermine the historically important reunification of ROC and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).

Vladimir Yakunin, president of the state-dominated Russian Railroads Concern, and chair of the public National Glory Foundation, personifies not only a professional and personal liaison between Russia and the economically competent "pragmatic" factions of the Estonian establishment but also the most influential mediator between the Russian leadership and the Moscow Patriarchy. At the recent All-National Russian Sobor, a major public event sponsored by the Patriarchy, Mr. Yakunin delivered a keynote speech, focused on both historical and religious issues but also on Russia's foreign political and foreign economic strategy. It would be just ridiculous to expect that the concerns of economic profit from trade across Estonia would be more important for him than the priorities of history, belief and personal honor taken altogether, in the situation of a blatantly unscrupulous assault both on the glorious and tragic past, and on the spiritual foundations of the present Russia.



The foreign backers of Andrus Ansip's play on dead bodies may believe they have reached their major political goal, which was to snub Russia, and undermine Russia-EU partnership at the moment when the sides were about to reach a strategic accord on basic economic relations. This underlying intention is proven by the simultaneous "relapse" of Victor Yuschenko's efforts to purge the very state authority which is supposed to solve the crisis he initiated himself Ц his country's Constitutional Court. Similarly, the political crisis in Turkey, whose leadership recently "dared" to reject partnership with France in the Russia-circumventing Nabucco pipeline project, resulted in a political development which is far distant from the basics of international law.

Therefore, the Russian-Estonian political tensions affect more than relations of two countries. This is too obvious, as well as the truth about the unipolar world domination, which targets not only Russian interests Ц though the latest hostile moves of the United States, especially the decision to deploy the ABM facilities in Eastern Europe, served as a most crucial piece of evidence of Washington's new "cold war thinking". The most typical feature of this thinking is neglect of the very tradition of law which had been advertised for years as an indispensable element of democracy.

Replacement of sane economic considerations with ideologically "expedient", though irrational "alternative energy" designs; replacement of facts with concoctions Ц for instance, over Saddam Hussein's fabulous WMD, substantiating a disastrous war campaign in the Gulf; and finally, replacement of international law with arbitrary rule are nothing but elements of the same desperate effort of Washington's administration, through various and Ц significantly Ц bipartisan agencies of influence and pressure, to keep the unipolar order alive. A barely ideological corpse-digging operation, launched in Estonia, represents an assault on both law and history. The underlying calculation upon the indifference of the whole Christian civilization to the most horrible catastrophes of the XX century reflects a commitment for similar arbitrary rule over nations and continents, similar methods, and similar war crimes, only of a much larger international scale.

For this only reason, the silence of European officials over the events in Tallinn, or a "balanced view" expressed by polar different comments from PACE Chairman Rene van den Linden and Commissar Javier Solana, is a very ominous sign of ideological disarray and political weakness. Once the Europeans allow a whole set of subversive operations to be launched on their continent from outside, the relevant decision makers acquire even more irrational and essentially destructive flight-forward moves of the White House. Behaving tomorrow in the fashion of lambs, ostensibly influential European politicians may be sacrificed as lambs in tomorrow's Pagan orgy of "star warriors". Allowing the unipolarist dictators, under the pretext of Europe's own "paradise of diversification", to split the EU into factions in their large-scale global games, targeting the whole of Eurasia, the Brussels bureaucrats are dooming themselves to be grilled one after another; pretending to have forgotten the recent history of the continent, they doom the posterity of the Europeans as well.

What looks most astounding for a Russian view is the silence of the official Israel Ц even after the Moscow-based Newsru agency, having a daughter media company in Jerusalem, reminded the Israeli audience that one of the remains, buried in the Tõnismagi grave, is the remains of a young Jewess, Yelena (Lenina) Varshavskaya, killed in the age of 20 on the last day of World War II. On the background of silence of Jerusalem officials, former captives of Nazi camps from the Simon Wiesenthal Center look like dissidents in the state, the very foundation of which was paid by over 5 millions of Jewish lives; the state which actually owes its existence more to the tribute of innocent victims in the aftermath of World War II than to the romantic dreams of Theodore Herzl.

Neither particular trade interests of Israel in Estonia (which served in the 1990s as a convenient hub for smuggle of Uzi guns), nor an ambiguous attitude to Moscow, a military trade partner of Arab countries, can justify the indifference of the Israeli government to the events in Tallinn. It this particular case, silence reflects more than just a lack of courage. The picture of an untidy clan bargain in Jerusalem between the engineers of the failed war in Lebanon and those who earlier created the pretext for this failure, indicates that the Jewish state is giving away its basic foundations Ц and thus allows global players to use it as a blind tool in the same colonial-like and indecent games tomorrow as they are using Estonia today. Despite populist curtseys of US senators before the Jewish community, in which the Holocaust is cynically played upon for nothing but their own domestic electoral interests, Israel is likely to be Ц and is being Ц similarly radicalized, similarly separated, and similarly betrayed.

The visible economic background of the ideological operation in Tallinn, mainly targeting the longtime partnership of Russia and the European Union, is superseded with the implied issues of human memory, human responsibility, and human honor. The bell of the desecrated Tonismagi tolls over the whole civilization of the West.

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