Deal with Russia ‘as it is’ says Estonian president, arguing in favor of greater cooperation with shared neighbor on Baltic visit

During a trip to neighboring Latvia, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid has urged European diplomats to pursue more constructive relationships with Moscow, insisting that doing so need not be at the expense of their ‘values’.

In an interview with the local LTV news channel, reported by Russian media on Thursday, the Estonian politician insisted that when it comes to Russia, “being involved doesn’t mean abandoning your principles.”

“I am in favor of dialogue,” she said, “but in it, you need to be firm and give a clear message. This is our common task – to take on these difficult issues.” At the same time, Kaljulaid is quoted as saying, “the more Western neighbors engage with Russia as it is, the more they will understand it.”

“We need to cooperate. For example, we support the fact that the EU, together with Russia, needs to conduct border checks. Likewise, we will willingly host Russian students so that they can see what life is like in the Free World [sic].” However, would-be exchange students might decide to bide their time before booking tickets to Tallinn. Estonia is currently under a strict Covid-19 lockdown, while Russia has already mostly abandoned restrictive measures to control the pandemic as case numbers tumble.

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Tensions between Russia and the Baltic nation have risen in recent weeks, with Moscow’s diplomats last month slamming Estonia’s calls for fresh sanctions on the country. The local Russian embassy pointed out that the new government of their host nation had previously said there was an absence of “grounds” for building better relations with their Eastern neighbor.

Earlier this week, the EU, of which Estonia and Latvia are both members, unveiled a package of sanctions aimed at four Russian officials who Brussels claims are responsible for the jailing of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Also included on the list is the head of the country’s riot police, which Eurocrats accuse of being responsible for “human rights violations” during the policing of protests held in Navalny’s support after his arrest in January.

A diplomatic spat reignited between the two countries in January after Henn Polluaas, the most senior figure in Estonia’s legislative assembly, used a New Year’s address to remind the public of a post-WWI agreement that he claims gives the country sovereignty over swathes of Russian territories. According to Polluaas, the “accord is still valid today, according to international law.”

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Alexander Drosdenko, the governor of Leningrad Region, where much of the disputed land is now located, hit back at Polluaas’ statement, telling reporters that the parliamentarian’s position depended entirely on “selective memory.” Pointing to previous border negotiations as far back as 1996, he claimed that “when signing the protocol, the Estonian side did not have a single question.”

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