TALLINN - The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Foreign Minister Urmas Paet was barred from Russia because his application for a visa was turned in late. The minister was scheduled to attend a roundtable on Russian-Estonian border relations in St. Petersburg on Nov. 10., but was denied entry by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Estonian Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu, who did receive an entry visa, turned down his invitation to the conference in solidarity with Paet.
Vice-chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, called Russia's decision "uncivilized and cheap," the Baltic News Service reported.
"To deny a visa to the foreign minister of a neighboring state, who has been invited to attend an event is an attempt to push the limits of disrespect with one's neighbors," he said.
The Russian embassy in Tallinn received the Estonian Foreign Ministry's request for Paet's visa just two days before the roundtable in St. Petersburg was scheduled, an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry source told the Interfax agency. Reportedly, if Russia had issued Paet an entry visa, it would have violated all regulations concerning the reception of high-ranking foreign officials.
The visit of a foreign minister requires an invitation from his Russian counterpart, the source stated. This allows the government to make transportation, security and press arrangements for the foreign guest.
"In this case there was no such invitation, and Russia was unable to arrange the reception of the Estonian foreign minister at the appropriate level," the source told Interfax. "It was on the basis of these regulations that the foreign minister's visit to Russia on May 18 was arranged when the bilateral border treaty was signed."
Conference organizers reportedly informed the ministry that an Estonian Foreign Ministry representative would be invited to the event, but did not make it clear exactly who.
"The Russian side explained to the Estonian Foreign Ministry the logic of its action and reminded it again that high-ranking officials' visits to Russia must take place in correspondence with effective regulations," the source added. "Such are the rules of international relations. Nobody had the intention of insulting Estonia."
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized Paet at the beginning of September for "distorting facts when speaking in Brussels about the situation in Russia."
"If sheer lack of information was the reason behind Paet's utterances, he could be excused. Unfortunately, in this case Paet is deliberately going for distorting facts," the Russian ministry was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti agency.
While in Brussels, Paet expressed alarm over the existence of numerous parties and organizations that he saw as openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic in Russia.