Foreign policy heads south

  • 2008-02-27
  • By Adam Krowka

Paet has led Estonia's diplomatic tour-de-force in the Balkan region.

TALLINN - Much to Russia's disappointment, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet voiced his support of inviting three Balkan countries 's Croatia, Macedonia and Albania 's into the NATO military alliance during its next meeting scheduled to take place in Bucharest, Romania this April.
According to the NATO Bucharest summit guide, enlargement will be "high on the agenda" and invitations for accession of further countries will almost certainly be extended during the three day event.
"To ensure global and regional security, new democracies and western Balkan countries need to be brought closer to NATO," Paet said in a foreign policy report to Parliament on Feb. 21.

Open support has also been given from Estonia for closer ties with the states of Georgia and Ukraine. In his view, it is possible that Membership Action Plans could be forged within the year to put both aspirants on a firm road towards membership. The first opportunity for this, he said, will arise during the April summit.
Estonia will also take part in discussion of newly-independent Kosovo and the status of the Kosovo Force (KFOR). The Estonian mandate was renewed in January, allowing up to 150 troops to take part in peacekeeping and policing operations.
The impact of Estonia in the region does not stop at the borders of NATO politics. On Feb. 20, the 26 members of the Estrif-3 contingent of Estonian peacekeepers took part in sealing a section of the Kosovo-Serbia border in the hot-spot divided city of Mitrovica.

A camera operator for Estonian Television was injured on Feb. 21 in Belgrade, Serbia. The crew, according to ETV correspondent Katrin Vaga, was surrounded by street riots which had evolved from earlier peaceful rallies against Kosovo's separation from Serbia.

Estonia formally recognized Kosovo on Feb. 21 and set about immediately to establishing diplomatic ties. Paet recognized that for the success of a common EU foreign policy and NATO action in the western Balkans, further cooperation is needed between the bodies.
"We mean by this both the coordinated activities in actual operations and intensification of political dialogue. It would be natural and necessary to cooperate in preventing crises, not to mention solving [them]. We could thus make the best use of existing opportunities and prevent the endangerment of human lives during missions," Paet told Parliament.
Four Estonian experts were also invited to be part of the 2,000-strong EU police and justice civilian mission to Kosovo, which has met strong protest from Serbia and Russia.

Given its affinity for smaller states and young developing democracies, Estonia has shown great interest in assisting the Balkan states in their progress towards international bodies. After Montenegro signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which is a firm step towards EU membership, in late 2007, Estonia was the first country to ratify the document.
Modestly-sized Slovenia was the latest and only second country to ratify the agreement on Feb. 18, after Estonia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro were previously invited to join the Partnership for Peace, a step necessary before joining NATO, and forge closer ties with the military alliance during a summit that took place in Nov. 2006 in Riga. "Clear signals" were also given to Croatia, Macedonia and Albania at the summit that full accession would most likely take place during the 2008 summit.
The aspirants for membership at the April summit have taken part in the Membership Action Plan program towards accession since 1999, with Croatia joining in 2002. Georgia and Ukraine have expressed their wishes for closer ties, and are currently engaged in an "Intensive Dialogue" to harmonize and direct intentions with the alliance.

Estonia's participation in NATO began during a summit in June 2004, following two years of accession procedures following an official invitation in 2002.