TALLINN - Estonia's rocky relationship with Russia could be further impaired if the Baltic state gives its approval to an application for citizenship from the surviving family of assassinated Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. Dudayev's widow, Alla Dudayeva, last week lodged an application for citizenship with the Estonian government, along with a similar application from her son, 23-year old Degi Dudayev.
Dudayeva is currently living in Vilnius on a residence permit but is officially stateless after rejecting Russian citizenship. She has asked the Estonian government to harbor her and her family because of Dudayev's Soviet-era connection with the country.
Not surprisingly, the Estonian public seems open to the concept of giving the controversial Chechen's widow citizenship. Local media coverage has been largely positive, and politicians have expressed an open-mindedness on the topic.
But Tartu University political analyst Rein Toomla said the issue was fraught with controversy. "The reaction of Russia will be very negative if she is granted citizenship," he said.
"It's quite complicated because the citizenship procedure is not easy. There are some special possibilities, for people such as scientists, artists or sportsmen. But in Dudayeva's case, it was and still is very complicated," Toomla said.
Prior to leading the breakaway Chechen republic to war against Russia, Dudayev served as commander of a Soviet air base in Tartu, where he learned to speak Estonian and developed an admiration for Balts' resistance to the Soviet Union.
He is often credited with assisting the Estonian independence movement by reportedly rejecting orders from Moscow to shut down the national parliament and television service.
It is these services to the nation that Dudayeva wants the government to consider while reviewing her application.
However, in order to accept Dudayeva, the government would need to overlook its own strict citizenship protocol, primarily that an applicant must live within the country.
A recently passed amendment to Estonia's Law on Citizenship would give the government power to make special considerations.
Local media have speculated that Dudayeva eventually wishes to obtain citizenship for all her children and grandchildren.
She has been living with her two sons and grandsons in Vilnius since earlier this year, having arrived at the invitation of a Lithuanian friend of Dudayev from his time in Tartu.
The family had been living in Turkey since 2003, but was unable to travel because her Soviet-era documents had lost validity.
Dudayeva has said that the current pro-Moscow government of Chechnya had offered her Russian citizenship. Accepting that would mean betraying the people who had suffered in the wars in Chechnya and those who are still fighting underground, she said.
Dudayev was killed in 1996 by a missile strike while using a satellite phone, whose signal was picked up by Russian special forces. At the time he was waging a war against Russia, which subsequently devastated the region.
Chechnya remains a disputed Russian territory that has not been recognized as an independent state by any other nation.
The issue of Dudayeva's citizenship remains to be decided by the Estonian government.
Acting Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar (PM Juhan Parts is on holiday) said the government had not yet considered the application.