Forums warm Estonia-Russia relations

  • 2001-02-22
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The political consequences of closer business relations will benefit both Estonia and Russia, concluded participants of the Estonian-Russian Business Forum held on Feb. 16-17 in Tallinn.

Boris Kurakin, vice president of the Russian Union of Producers and Entrepreneurs, called the forum the most significant business meeting of the decade.

"The next big forum will take place this July in St. Petersburg in order to strengthen our relations," said Kurakin.

Aadu Lukas, the head of the Estonian Business Association, said the partnership carries a strong mutual benefit.

"Active trade with Estonia is important for the St. Petersburg region and Pskov," said Lukas

"Today we are witnessing a rapid decrease in the volume of trade between our two countries. The statistics for last year confirmed this trend," Kurakin said.

The union has 48 members, which together produce 80 percent of Russia's annual GDP. Representatives of Gazprom, Vneshtorgbank, Rostelekom and other Russian business giants came to Tallinn to discuss the possibility of a partnership with their Estonian colleagues from the Estonian Business Association.

A partnership agreement signed by the Estonian Business Association and Russian Union of Producers and Entrepreneurs on Feb. 17 will become the legal foundation for further cooperation and lobbying in the Estonian Parliament and Russian Duma.

The forum, closed to the press, handled several problems regarding Estonian-Russian trade such as double customs fees, placing of foreign capital and others. Dmitri Rogozin, chairman of the Russian Parliament's foreign affairs commission and a key forum participant, said he will meet with President Vladimir Putin this week to inform him about the importance of future economic and political partnerships with Estonia.

"Following this forum the period of collapse of Estonian-Russian relations has ended, and I praise the businessmen who backed this. I hope we (Estonia and Russia) will no longer need to go to Strasbourg or Brussels to discuss our problems," said Rogozin.

Kurakin used the Italian expression "cosa contra producente" (the thing that works against itself) when describing the current attitude of the Estonian state toward Russian capital and possible investments.

"When I needed to visit a conference in Paris, the French Embassy in Moscow gave me a six-month Schengen visa. When I needed to come to this two-day forum, the Embassy of Estonia issued a two-day visa. I guess it was done to make it clear that I have little chance to enjoy the beauty of the Old Town," said Kurakin.

"So, as long as I have to beg the clerk in the embassy for a longer visa every time I want to come to Estonia and maybe invest some 10 million dollars, the future of Russian capital in Estonia is doubtful," Kurakin added.

Estonia's NATO membership is still seen by Russia as a completely undesirable option, confirmed Rogozin.

"When Estonia becomes a NATO member, it will become a buffer country between Russia and the Western countries. This will make Russia regroup the armed forces and the Russian intelligence service will have to pay more attention to Estonia," said Rogozin.

He added that the real current threat to Russia, according to military analysts, is coming from the southern borders of the Russian Federation. Estonian-Russian relations are evidently experiencing a boom. Along with the business forum in Tallinn, another meeting of politicians and businessmen from Estonia and Russia was held in Tartu on Feb. 15-16. Logistics and transboundary cooperation were the focus of the Tartu meeting.

The forum included Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves, Konstantin Provalov, the Russian ambassador to Estonia, and Elisabeth Bonnier, the Swedish ambassador to Estonia. Provalov also visited the Tallinn forum.

On Feb. 19 a conference in St. Petersburg dedicated to Estonia's independence day welcomed Estonian and Russian specialists. The conference, called "Estonia and Russia: A Glance to the Future," was organized by St. Petersburg State University and the Estonian Consulate in St. Petersburg.