TALLINN - President Arnold Ruutel agreed to go to Moscow in January to accept an award from Patriach Alexy II for his role in strengthening unity among Orthodox Christian nations.
The trip, which will be private, has helped highlight the dilemma whether Ruutel, along with the other two Baltic presidents, should travel to the Russian capital in May to take part in the 60th anniversary celebrations of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Nations, working under the auspices of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, decided in March to include Ruutel among recipients of the foundation's 2004 awards for forging unity between Orthodox nations.
In announcing that the president would make the trip, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland apparently hinted that it might be possible to come to a border agreement with Russia.
This was denied by Russia's Foreign Ministry. "It is hardly appropriate to fit highest-level contacts with politicians' personal plans," a ministry source told the Interfax news agency.
"In general, it is a surprising fact that both Latvian and Estonian colleagues have started to comment publicly on the course of talks pertaining to the possibility of signing border treaties, although traditionally such comments are made after agreements have been reached and the issue has been reported to the heads of states," the source said.
On Dec. 10 President Vladimir Putin ordered the Foreign Ministry to complete the necessary preparations by May 9 to sign border treaties with Estonia and Latvia. According to the RIA Novosti news agency, he told reporters after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero that he had ordered the ministry to make a thorough analysis of all border-related issues with the Baltic states.
"We are preparing to receive them [Baltic leaders] in Moscow within the framework of the events of the 60th anniversary of the great victory. I hope that specialists will have concluded the respective accords by then," Putin was quoted as saying.
The chairman of Estonia's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Marko Mihkelson, said that an acknowledgement by Russia of the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 and 1944 would create a better atmosphere in relations ahead of the planned celebrations of May 9 in Moscow next year.
He said that by admitting occupation, Russia would make it easier for the Baltic presidents to decide whether or not to attend the events in Moscow. "It is extremely important that the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania make the decision together, no matter what the decision is going to be," Mihkelson said.
"History cannot be bargained over," he said.
Ojuland told Parliament last week that the three presidents would make the decision about the invitation in March.