TALLINN - Baltic leaders have begun to respond to the recent wave of criticism from Russia through candid interviews with Russian-language media, calling for a spirit of dialogue with the Eastern neighbor.
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel told the Molodyozh Estonii daily last week that problems with human rights were greatly exaggerated, particularly in the Russian media.
"As to the reproaches Russia is leveling at Estonia, I personally think those problems don't actually exist," he stressed. "Many people have integrated into society, work and have been granted citizenship. They have established flourishing businesses with a Russian staff in the Ida-Virumaa region and Tallinn."
Ruutel stressed the existence of two broad ethnic Russian groups in the country and the different relations with each.
"We have good neighborly relations with Russian Old Believers, who years ago fled to this country from persecution and who have become a part of Estonian society."
He said a second Russian minority came about as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In the northeastern part of the country, Estonians themselves have become a minority, he added.
"But on the human level we all understand that today's people are not to blame for what happened in those years," he said.
Speaking of Russia, the president emphasized, "I hope that we shall continue joint efforts to develop our relations rather than seek conflict, and that Russia too will understand us."
When asked about Russia's allegations that fascist tendencies had arisen in Estonia, Ruutel said such talk was groundless and offensive. He further mentioned that many people lost their relatives and friends in the prewar Soviet occupation, including his.
"When some of them later on served in the German army, they were fighting not for Nazis but against the Stalinist regime," Ruutel said. "They hoped Germany would lose the war anyway, and then Estonia might have a chance to restore its independence and defend itself against a third occupation."
Also, whereas before the war the Estonian economy was comparable to that of Finland, it now lags behind its northern neighbor, the president observed. In his words, this is the reason for the inability to realistically evaluate the events of those times.
"I call on everybody to look calmly and peaceably at the past events, the way France, Germany and Poland, for whom those events were no less tragic, have done," Ruutel said.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told the Russian news agency Interfax that, despite the diplomatic expulsions, there were no reasons for the current confrontation in relations with Russia.
In his words, Lithuania "has not taken and will not take steps that could harm ties" with Russia.
"We are pursuing an active policy of constructive cooperation and good neighborhood. Lithuania's policy will remain unchanged in the future," Adamkus said. "Therefore, I call upon Russian President Vladimir Putin: You are welcome in Lithuania."
Meanwhile, several Latvian officials were set to depart for Moscow to explain to the Russian media the country's programs of education reform and societal integration. The officials also intend to participate in a seminar "Russia and Foreign Diaspora: Experience and Problems of Mutual Cooperation."