Baltic specialist in Moscow resigns post in protest

  • 2005-03-23
  • Staff and wire reports
RIGA - A ranking career diplomat in Russia resigned last week in protest of changes in Moscow's policy toward the Baltics.
Mikhail Demurin, who for eight years had worked in the second European department of Russia's Foreign Affairs Ministry, decided to step down after Moscow went against its original plans and delinked ratification of a border agreement with a bilateral agreement that would address the rights of ethnic Russians living in the Baltics.

In an interview with the Regnum news agency, Demurin said that the change in Russian policy was harmful to its national interests. Since he was tipped to become head of the department and would have therefore been responsible for executing the policy "zigzag," he said that he chose to leave the ministry.

News of the departure was particularly poignant in Russia, since bureaucrats there do not typically resign their posts on matters of principle. Russian language publications in the Baltics gave particularly wide coverage to the story.

Describing his motivations, Demurin referred to phone calls by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to his Estonian counterpart Rein Lang and Latvia's Artis Pabriks at the beginning of this month. The former civil servant said these phone calls made it clear that Russia had given up linking the border agreements, which the Baltics are pressing for, with political declarations that would ensure the rights of Estonia and Latvia's ethnic Russian communities in compliance with international norms.

"It is a mistake," he said of the policy-switch, one that rose from "selfish economic-financial interests" and "incorrect understanding of history."

Demurin has been an advocate of a tough stance vis-a-vis the Baltics, and after resigning he suggested that Russia try harder to convince the EU and NATO that the Baltic states were poor partners and that the three countries were preventing Russia and Europe from building stronger relations.

"I know that I have the reputation of a 'hawk' among the ultra-rightists in power in Latvia and Estonia," said Demurin, who intends to work as an independent political analyst.

He said it would also be a mistake to let Tallinn and Vilnius think that president Arnold Ruutel and Valdas Adamkus' refusal to attend the World War II anniversary ceremonies in Moscow wouldn't affect relations. He added that the two presidents, particularly Ruutel, who just visited Moscow, had eliminated any chances of being leaders whose legacy would include improved relations with Russia.

Demurin recalled an instance five years ago when Moscow harshly reacted to pre-election calls by Lithuania's Vytautas Landsbergis, a right-wing politician and harsh critic of Russia, to claim occupation damages from Russia.

"If we had reacted then by holding out an olive branch, the Lithuanian right-wingers would have been able to show the public and, what is most important, business circles that one can talk to Russia disrespectfully and in an insulting tone."

As regards to Baltic history, Demurin categorically denied that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied in 1940. He said the Soviet Union took its troops into these countries with governmental consent. He also referred to the Helsinki accord of 1975 as committing leaders of Europe and the United States to respect postwar borders in Europe and each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.