Russia and the EU

Sellel teemal ja mitte ainult tuli juttu intervjuus nädalalehele The Baltic Times. Kuna leht ise pole kuigi kättesaadav, siis toon selle intervjuu teksti siinkohal täies ulatuses ka ära.

"A member of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union since 2001 and MP since 2003, Marko Mihkelson is the current chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee and one of Estonia's most prominent politicians. With the antagonistic pro-Kremlin group 'NightVigil' recently pushing for Russian territorial autonomy, The Baltic Times asked the outspoken politician some big questions regarding the EU, NATO and the future of Estonian-Russian relations.

You've been a member of Par­liament since 2003, but I under­stand your career involvement with Russia goes back much fur­ther - what previously held posi­tions have contributed to your background in Russian affairs?

My interest in Russian affairs started a while ago. Since graduat­ing from Tartu University in 1993 as a historian (specializing in Russian history) I have been following very closely - both as journalist, academic and now politician - develop­ments in Russian politics. I worked from 1994 to 1997 in Moscow as a correspondent for Estonian Daily Postimees. In 1999 I defended my master degree on Russian politics and from 2000 till 2003 I was direc­tor of the Baltic Center for Russian Studies.

Russia has long-considered the Baltics to be inherently in­cluded in their political 'sphere of influence' - has Baltic mem­bership in the EU and NATO helped deter this?

Sure. I think that Baltic mem­bership in these organizations is truly historical - not only for us, but also for Europe and Russia. Firstly, it was very important gen­erally for the Western world to get rid of Yalta's heritage. Secondly, it helped to create a much more dy­namic vision of Europe's present and future, where the three Baltic States can contribute very actively.
Thirdly, for Russia this was a clear signal that the time of the Soviet empire is irreversibly over. Democratic, free and stable coun­tries, which are the members of EU or NATO, can not pose any threat to Russia. A safe and prosperous neighborhood must be Russia's true interest.

How did the Russian invasion of Georgia change the dynamics of European, and particularly Baltic, politics?

I think that still this is too early to call, but some changes are already there. If in July European foreign ministers were not ready to discuss the situation in Georgia as a point of public agenda, because there existed thinking that this might be offensive towards Moscow, then now we are over it. This week ministers of interior affairs will give a mandate for the European Commission to start negotiations with Georgia on visa facilitation and readmission agreements.

In the Baltic States there has been less change, if any. Georgia has been one of our foreign policy and development aid priorities for years and our strong support against the Russian invasion was just a logical result of it.

Was the invasion a foreseeable development of existing Russian foreign policy?

Unfortunately yes. We saw an escalation of relations between Mos­cow and Tbilisi already years ago, basically since the Rose revolution in 2003. The current Russian leader­ship has been very sensitive towards democratic changes in Georgia and Ukraine, being afraid that "orange disease" could gain ground in Rus­sia as well. More detailed prepara­tions for invasion started immedi­ately after the Bucharest Summit in April where NATO failed to give MAP (Membership Action Plan) to Georgia and Ukraine.

Should the EU be resuming strategic talks with Russia so soon?

The decision is made and nego­tiation are resuming in December. What's done is done. Now it's im­portant that we don't forget that the Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan is not fulfilled completely by Russia and Geneva talks are just getting back on track. We should be able to react im­mediately if needed to any negative escalation in Georgia. The resuming of negotiation should be taken as in­centive for Moscow to lose its aggres­siveness towards neighbors.

In your blog you said that a lack of consistency, especially over Russia, has been one of the major stumbling blocks for the EU. Could you explain this in more detail?

The European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is still in very early stages of its general formation. Fifteen years is nothing com­pared to the backgrounds of member states' diplomatic histories. Russia is one of the major challenges today for CFSP. So far we have not been very successful among ourselves because of different understandings of Rus­sia and different interests in this regard.

The common denominator in the EU is still very low, which does not allow it to play a more active role in shaping its own agenda. At the mo­ment we are allowing Russia to dic­tate the main questions to Europe while we are commonly lacking con­sistency.

What steps should NATO be taking to ensure the protection of the Baltic states? Are they doing enough at present?

I think that NATO has been very realistic in terms of analyzing Russia's invasion against Georgia and making in this regard necessary steps to strengthen the alliance's common security. I know that in NATO discussions are taking place over several different strategies in connection with Baltic Sea region. Most of them have been in working process for some time already.

What is the realistic likeli­hood of a Russian invasion of the Baltics?

Bold zero. I really do not think that in the Kremlin are mad people who cannot understand what would be provoked by a military invasion against any NATO member state.

When pro-Kremlin activists 'Nochnoi Dozor,' or 'Night Vigil,' recently polled Russian residents about establishing a Russian ter­ritorial autonomy you likened the hypothetical territory to South Ossetia - what do you mean by this?

By this I meant first of all that Russian official policy is to defend the dignity of its citizens wherever they are. As president Medvedev said in August, Russia can also use this for the purpose of military pow­er, like they did in "defending" their own citizens in South Ossetia. De­livering easy access to Russian citizenship should make us aware that this might be accompanied also with more aggressive foreign policy to­wards countries where a large num­ber of Russian citizens are living.

Talks about the possibility to call for some sort of Russian territorial autonomy in Estonia are purely provocative. This is totally counterpro­ductive if the aim is truly to contrib­ute to integration processes.

How should the government be responding to Nochnoi Dozor?

I think that our security police should keep its eyes open. Estonia is a free and democratic state where freedom of speech is guaranteed. But any possible activity against consti­tutional order should not be toler­ated by law enforcement agencies.

Estonia has often been criti­cized for its inadequate integra­tion of Russian speaking resi­dents into greater society, how do you respond to these claims?

I think that the Estonian inte­gration process has been more or less successful. You have to take into account the different factors which have influenced both the pretext and outcome of this very difficult process. This includes the heritage of Soviet Union but also the recent identity building in Putin's Russia. Both of them are not very much helping to create greater society But we are passionate.

Integration does not only mean how many non-citizens are left in the country By the way, this number has lessened in Estonia by four-fold since 1991. More important than this is the elementary loyalty to the coun­try you live in. This is our main aim today, to promote positive thinking among Russians in Estonia.

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