Out in the cold?

  • 2005-03-09
At long last the Kremlin can plan its seating arrangements for one of the most ridiculously overpoliticized ceremonies in recent memory. The May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, which will be attended by world leaders such as George Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac, will have two notable absentees on the day.

Presidents Arnold Ruutel and Valdas Adamkus announced almost simultaneously on March 7 that they, for one, would be staying at home.

The announcement was a long time coming and was taken amid extraordinary pressure from Russia, which was at times excruciating to witness. Only Russia could turn an event marking the end of Nazism 's one of the darkest episodes in European history 's into a game of political musical chairs.

Interestingly, polls in Estonia and Lithuania had suggested that slightly more people were in favor of the presidents attending the event than against.

Ruutel's decision not to go to Moscow seems all the stranger when you consider his political background and the fact that he has generally had good relations with Russia.

The Estonian daily Eest Paevaleht suggested that his motives for not going were private rather than moral, which is partly supported by the fact that his decision did not have widespread public support. If anything, Ruutel has been widely criticized at home for possibly harming Estonian-Russian relations.

It's another story with Adamkus. He has consistently said that he had no wish to attend the event as a Lithuanian, but felt obliged to as a head of state. One political commentator said that Putin's amazingly insensitive remarks about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the final straw for Adamkus.

The Lithuanian President's decision has generally been well received at home, and it certainly hasn't harmed his political standing. It seems that Lithuania doesn't have much to lose either, since it already has the border treaty with Russia signed, which was one of the most significant diplomatic stumbling blocks between the two countries, although others remain.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's decision to go, which she announced on Jan. 12, seems particularly shrewd in light of these developments. She will be the de facto representative of the Baltics, and quite possibly the most articulate. And no one should be in any doubt that she will get her much-publicized planned statement about Baltic history across to Putin, be it in German or through a translator.

Meanwhile, the all-too-conspicuous absence of Ruutel and Adamkus will also draw attention to Baltic-Russian relations, which have been growing ever more sour in the lead-up to May 9.

In a strange, almost uncanny way, this was probably the best way it could have worked out.