Estonia, Relations with

   Estonia passed from Swedish to Russian rule during the early 18th century with the Treaty of Nystad. Despite two centuries of Russian rule, the region maintained much of its Lutheran and Teutonic heritage. With the early abolition of serfdom and commercial connections to other Baltic countries, Estonia earned a reputation as one of tsarist Russia’s most economically liberal regions.
   A national awakening began in the 20th century, culminating in a push for independence from Russia during World War I (1914–1918). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Estonia was occupied by German troops before taking up a war of independence with Soviet Russia, which recognized the sovereignty of the state in 1920 under the terms of the Treaty of Tartu. During the interwar period, Estonia functioned as part of the cordon sanitaire of newly independent Eastern European states hostile to the Soviet Union. Under the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) invaded the country and declared Estonia a Soviet Socialist Republic in the summer of 1940 after a pro-Communist coup d’état. Despite Nazi occupation of the region during World War II, Moscow reimposed its annexation of Estonia in the waning days of the conflict; a small portion of eastern Estonia was then transferred to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
   The United States, Great Britain, and a host of Western countries never formally recognized the incorporation of Estonia and the other Baltic States into the USSR. During the Soviet era, the republic suffered from the deportation of a significant portion of its intelligentsia and political elites. Policies of Russification and settlement of ethnic Russians (particularly military personnel) in the region further led to a dilution of Estonian culture. However, in the post-Stalinist era, Estonia benefited from a comparatively liberal economic and media regime, including the ability to receive television broadcasts from and travel to neighboring Finland. Under perestroika, Estonian nationalists, economic liberals, and the Greens sidelined the Communist Party, which was increasingly viewed as a tool of foreign (Russian) domination and imperialism. Tallinn, along with Vilnius and Riga, emerged as a hotbed of anti-Soviet activity from 1988 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
   Estonia regained its independence by the end of the summer of 1991 as the USSR’s Supreme Soviet recognized the republic, followed by the reestablishment of formal relations with Washington. As an independent state, Estonia moved quickly to develop its relations with the Nordic countries and Western Europe, particularly Germany. Estonia, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, refused to countenance inclusion into Russia’s near abroad, despite nearly five decades of Soviet rule, and eschewed membership in any post-Soviet organization, including the Commonwealth of Independent States. Its geopolitical situation, however, was complicated by the presence of Russian troops (the last of whom left the country in 1994) and a sizable Russian minority.
   Tallinn’s 1992 decision not to grant its ethnic Russians (and other non-Estonians) citizenship unless they or their ancestors were citizens of the republic prior to the 1940 annexation created lasting problems in Estonian-Russian relations. While Estonian citizenship could be obtained through language proficiency and swearing an oath of loyalty, approximately a quarter of the country’s population was effectively rendered noncitizens (negrazhdane). The problem was especially acute in the area around the eastern city of Narva, which is predominantly Russian. Many in Russia felt that Brussels and Washington were turning a blind eye to the poor treatment of its “countrymen” in Estonia, despite the European Union (EU) and America’s regular urging of Estonia to treat its national minorities with respect. This situation, along with Estonian overtures to the United States, transformed Tallinn into an easy target of Russian ultranationalists during the Yeltsin administration. Washington’s 1997 decision to invite the Baltic States to join its mutual defense treaty, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), further chilled the relationship between Tallinn and Moscow during the latter years of the Yeltsin administration. Economic relations between the two states also deteriorated during this time, with spats over customs duties and transit of oil and natural gas and threats of sanctions. Relations were also complicated by Tallinn’s insistence on the return of territory annexed to Russia in 1945; disputes over the border delimitation continue to this day. Estonia joined NATO on 29 March 2004 and became a member of the EU on 1 May 2004. Membership in the unions added heft to tiny Estonia’s position in its negotiations with Moscow but also precipitated a worsening of bilateral relations with its large eastern neighbor.
   Vladimir Putin’s more aggressive foreign policy resulted in Estonia being branded a threat to Russian interests. Frequent accusations of Estonians as “fascists” began to pepper the Russian media during the first decade of the new millennium, reaching a fever pitch in 2005 as Russia prepared to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In 2007, a poll found that Russians considered Estonia to be the most unfriendly regime in the world. The relationship between the two countries reached its nadir in 2007. Prompted by the controversy surrounding the relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, the Estonian Cyberwar was launched by pro-Russian hackers. The attacks, which targeted Estonian government websites, triggered an investigation by NATO and plunged Estonia, a global leader in e-governance, into chaos. In the wake of the 2008 South Ossetian War, Estonian fears of Moscow’s potential “liberation” of Russian citizens living in Narva was pushed to the forefront of international diplomacy.
   See also Foreign relations.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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