Border treaty requires new negotiations

  • 2005-06-29
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLINN - In response to Parliament's addition of a preamble to the border treaties with Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a note to the Estonian Embassy revoking its commitments to the treaties.

The border agreements, which were signed on May 18 in Moscow and ratified by Parliament, were submitted to Russia's Foreign Ministry last week. The latter, however, refused to accept certain clauses added to the treaty's preamble that mentioned the Soviet Union's occupation and annexation of the Baltic state.

Speaking in Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the preamble added by Estonian lawmakers makes it possible for the Baltic state to make territorial and other claims on Russia. He said that Estonian delegations had promised Moscow to refrain from adding any references to other circumstances when ratifying the agreements.

The European Union expressed disappointment at the news. "I think we have to follow this closely and see how the situation evolves," said Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "It is important to us that this border agreement is signed and indeed ratified. I think we will have to see how the two sides develop this over the coming days to see whether there will indeed be new negotiations or not," she added.

Ene Ergma, speaker of Parliament, defended the vote, saying it had passed on the basis of the country's original 1918 established borders, the August 1991 Supreme Council resolution "On the National Independence of Estonia," and Parliament's October 1992 declaration "On the Restoration of Constitutional Power."

Parliamentarians also considered amendments made to the state border under Article III section I of the Tartu Peace Treaty.

Parliament adopted the treaty with 78 "yes" and 4 "no" votes, but a heated discussion over the addition of a preamble stalled the process. "Today's decision cannot be at the expense of the past," pleaded Marko Mihkelso, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee after he and his fellow Res Publica members argued that the text should mention the Russian occupation and annexation.

Pro Patria also supported the proposal, and President Arnold Ruutel signed a resolution to promulgate the treaties on June 22.

In Moscow, the Duma (lower house of Parliament) argued that the act needed to be analyzed in depth, and that lawyers should determine whether Estonia's reservations would lead to territorial claims in the future, Konstantin Kosachov, chairman of the committee on international affairs, was quoted as saying by Postimees.

Russia's legislative branch had not yet voted on the documents.

"The Estonian side is taking up back to 1918 in the final version, creating prerequisites for territorial and other claims. And if Russia assesses the amendments as unacceptable, the draft will go in the same trash can as the border treaty with Latvia did," Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council (upper house of Parliament) was quoted by RIA-Novosti news agency as saying.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, commenting on Radio 4 to Russia's response, said that Estonia had no claims on Russia, including territorial ones.

Since Russia's response, an intense political back-and-forth has developed between the two foreign ministries. Estonia initiated the dialog, expressing regret over Russia's decision to keep the treaties from reaching the Duma. Estonia, after all, had demonstrated its good will by quickly ratifying the documents, which Moscow had wanted it to do.

"The Estonian government did not tie the ratification of the border treaties with any additional annexes that would allow the presentation of new demands, and neither did the Riigikogu [Estonia's parliament] when it supplemented the bill," the Russian Foreign Ministry response declared.

Eesma, however, asserts that the preamble in no way changes the treaty content.

Irrespective of Estonian opinion, Russia's Foreign Ministry intends to initiate domestic procedures to exempt Russia from previous treaty obligations and to open up new negotiations. In the meantime, Estonia's leadership is hoping for a change of heart in Moscow.

"The Estonian Foreign Ministry still hopes that the Russian side will reanalyze the ratification act with the documents referred to, and that they will abandon their intended steps and continue the ratification process," the ministry stated on its Web site.