TALLINN - Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stern message to the West in his annual state-of-the-nation address April 25, saying Russia would not tolerate street demonstrations similar to those in Ukraine and Georgia and suggesting that it would continue to put pressure on the Baltics over human-rights issues.
Putin seemed to be alluding specifically to the Baltic countries when he said that protection of ethnic Russians living abroad remains one of the most important tasks for the country. He said that the protection of Russians abroad cannot be a subject of political or diplomatic bargaining.
"We are counting on it that the new EU and NATO member states situated in former Soviet territory will prove with deeds their respect for human rights, including the rights of national minorities," he said.
"Those who do not respect, observe, or ensure human rights have no right to demand that human rights be respected by others."
The Russian leader said tens of millions of Russian citizens and ethnic Russians were living outside the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he called the biggest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.
Though harsh, his criticism of the Baltics was milder compared with past speeches, which could possibly signal that the Kremlin is softening its stance vis-Ä…-vis the Baltics. During a recent visit to Latvia, Kremlin envoy Sergei Yastrzhembsky suggested that the two sides tone down their criticism of one another and build more constructive relations.
Speaking of the multi-colored protests that have ousted three governments in the former Soviet Union, Putin said authorities would adopt "legal but tough" methods to combat the "illegal methods of fighting for national, religious or other interests."
He said Russia 's "chiefly a large European nation" in his words 's would continue to wrestle for influence in the former Soviet Union. "The Russian nation should continue its mission of civilizing the Eurasian continent," he said.
Meanwhile, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who took part in a EU foreign ministers meeting this week, said that whether or not EU-Russian cooperation would bear fruit depended directly on the four so-called common spaces. During the meeting, the ministers focused on preparations for the EU-Russia summit on May 10, where the four spaces 's economic issues and the environment; issues of freedom, security and justice; external security, including crisis management and non-proliferation; and research and education, including cultural aspects 's are to be agreed upon.
Paet said that it is one of Estonia's goals to strengthen strategic relations between the EU and Russia in interaction with the other member states, while not neglecting common values. For developing cooperation a clear plan is needed, and these four spaces as a common package are a good starting point, the minister said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that in matters related to the space of freedom, security and justice the two sides differed on whether the readmission treaty and simplified visas for Russians should be linked to each other. The Kremlin wants to simplify travel procedures for its citizens, but EU officials want a set of guarantees first.
"It is important that Russia will take back illegal immigrants, regardless of what country's citizens they are. We can make no compromise here 's we cannot change the meaning of the agreement. It's better to have no agreement than to have a bad agreement, because with a bad agreement we are unable to foresee the consequences," Paet said.