TALLINN - Russian diplomats and politicians sent a mixed bag of signals last week about relations with the Baltic states, though one cultural expert was quoted as saying that the situation with ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia was "over-exaggerated." Eleonora Mitrofanova, head of the Russian International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation Center, told a press conference in Moscow that many noncitizens in Estonia and Latvia did not wish to apply for citizenship, often delayed registering their children and didn't bother to learn the local languages.
Mitrofanova, a regular visitor of all three Baltic states, did however claim that there were some restrictions of human rights. For instance, noncitizens are unable to take jobs in 25 spheres due to their lack of citizenship.
She said that, based on her own observations, the naturalization process in Latvia is progressing at a brisk pace. She quoted a statistic that 48 percent of Latvian conscripts are Russian-speakers.
The issue has become topical since President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing a commission that will be tasked with enticing ethnic Russians living abroad to move to Russia, which is facing its own demographic crisis.
Commenting on the decree, Mitrofanova said, "Monitoring has shown that Russians do not want to leave the Baltic countries because they are already in Europe, the countries are peaceful and have higher living standards. Russians want to leave Central Asia, and above all Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. But they don't want to leave the Ukraine very much."
Putin's aide, Viktor Ivanov, will head the commission. Curiously, Ivanov caused controversy last week after he claimed that Estonia and Latvia had territorial claims against Russia. Speaking at the German Foreign Policy Association, Ivanov said it was surprising how patiently the European Union was tolerating the said claims, the RIA Novosty agency reported.
Sergei Ivanov, chairman of the Estonian-Russian parliamentary group in the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament), expressed surprise at the statement. "Estonia has no territorial claims to Russia and Tallinn has repeatedly officially declared this," he told BNs.
By way of evidence, he said that a recent meeting between representatives of the Estonian and Russian foreign ministries had taken place in a constructive mood, and no one had raised the issue of territorial claims.
Meanwhile, Russian MP Mikhail Margelov proposed to set up Russian-Estonian and Russian-Latvian youth commissions to give a new boost to cross-border cooperation.