Putin promises Ruutel to reassess Molotov-Ribbentrop pact

  • 2005-01-26
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The Baltic states were abuzz with speculation this week after Estonian President Arnold Ruutel said that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was prepared to address the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and possibly even nullify it.

Ruutel, who had been in Moscow on an unofficial visit, made the statement on Jan. 20 after emerging from a private meeting with the Russian president. He said he had told Putin that relations between Russia and the Baltics would improve if the former recognized the illegality of the Soviet-Nazi pact that subsequently led to the occupation of the Baltic countries.

Ruutel also said that Russia could declare the 1939 pact null and void, as did the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies in 1989.

The Estonian president described the rendezvous with Putin as "fruitful," stressing that the meeting had opened new possibilities in Estonian-Russian relations. "Both sides showed willingness for deeper mutual understanding," he was quoted by his press office as saying.

However, the Kremlin put a different spin on the tete-a-tete. Dmitry Peskov, Putin's deputy press officer, hinted to reporters on Jan. 22 that nullification of the pact was unlikely since "only a historical evaluation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is possible."

Peskov did say, however, that the Russian side would like to see a border treaty with Estonia signed on May 10 in Moscow, along with a declaration on bilateral cooperation.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, MEP and deputy chairman of the European Parliament foreign affairs commission, told the Postimees daily on Jan. 20 that there was a threat of facing different interpretations of what had been said at the presidents' closed meeting.

"However, the president in Estonia does not have any administrative power, there is no particular reason to worry," said Ilves.

Tiit Matsulevits, MP from Res Publica and former ambassador to Russia, said it was impossible to analyze the Ruutel-Putin meeting properly. "We actually do not know anything about it for sure as no [diplomatic] adviser was present there," he said.

"Perhaps somebody got a feeling that certain promises were given, but from the Kremlin's press office comments, I can only read that President Putin did not give any promises," Matsulevits added.

When asked whether Estonia's foreign policy needed better coordination to avoid such conflicting interpretations, Matsulevits said that Estonia needed first to work harder on the foreign policy strategy in general. "Not only do we need better coordination, but also clearer [foreign policy] concept and direction, especially now that we are members of the EU and NATO," he said.

"Our national interests must be intellectually polished. There must be a certain range of priorities. To explain to people why we need what we do, we first have to formulate and define our interests," added Matsulevits.

The one-hour meeting between Ruutel and Putin was followed by an equally long lunch with Patriarch of All Russia Aleksei II in the Kremlin, where the Estonian president received an award for strengthening the unity of Orthodox peoples.

Aleksei II was born in Estonia before the war.

Ruutel also said that Putin had promised to support a prompt signing of the border treaty and agreed that it should not be tied to the signing of a cooperation declaration. Russia earlier sent a cooperation declaration draft 's a generally worded document on political, economic and cultural partnership 's to Estonia and Latvia's foreign affairs ministries last December. Last week Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed Russia's wish to see the cooperation agreement signed as a pre-condition for signing the border treaty with Estonia and Latvia.

Russia ratified a border treaty with Lithuania in 2003 as part of a wider agreement with the European Union aimed to facilitate the continued travel of Russians across Lithuanian territory to and from the Kaliningrad exclave.

During the meeting Ruutel suggested that the agreement could be signed by the two countries' foreign ministers this spring and on May 10, when the EU-Russia Summit will be held in Moscow, the presidents could exchange the border agreement ratification documents.

According to Ruutel's press office, "President Putin took the suggestion seriously, and work on the border treaty issues will continue through diplomatic contacts of the two countries."