Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Estonia Alexander Petrov’s interview with RIA Novosti news agency, December 10, 2019
Question: What do you think about the situation with the Sputnik-Estonia news agency which has come under unprecedented administrative pressure from the Estonian authorities?
Alexander Petrov: It’s very sad. Despite being in strict compliance with local legislation, this Russian media outlet is working amid an information blockade imposed by the authorities, which is further aggravated by the security officials’ occasional disciplinary talk with the journalists. Despite tough pressure, Sputnik managed to adapt, found a niche and is steadily expanding its audience. Apparently, this forced its detractors to switch to open bullying and arm-twisting tactics with regard to the banks and the landlord in order to paralyse the news agency’s daily activities. What is it if not brazen point scoring with a dissenting media outlet?
Question: Are the principles of freedom of speech observed in Estonia in light of the fact that publications by the Russian media and Russian correspondents in Estonia are often dubbed propaganda expressing the Kremlin’s point of view or rewriting history? Calls are also being made to limit the activities of "hostile television and radio stations in Estonia" and to tighten control over the issuance of television and radio broadcasting licenses.
Alexander Petrov: Estonia seems to rank at the top of international rankings of freedom of speech, which is often mentioned with pride here. However, the actual Sputnik hunt has revealed that these rosy indicators are far from harsh reality. Objectionable media with a point of view that differs from the official one are harassed and openly persecuted in the worst Cold War traditions.
Notably, the Estonian media employees accredited in Russia or coming to Russia never run into any artificial or far-fetched barriers in their professional activities, or have problems with access to banking and other services, even though criticism of our country is the mainstream subject in Estonian media. So, where is real, not declared, freedom of speech?
Question: Recently, some Estonian politicians have raised the question of demanding compensation from Russia for damage caused by the "Soviet occupation" and returning some of Russia’s territories to Estonia. As Interior Minister Mart Helme said earlier, "Russia owns 5.2 percent of Estonia’s territory, but Russia doesn’t want to return this territory, nor pay compensation for it, nor even discuss this issue." How, do you think, these statements should be taken?
Alexander Petrov: President Putin rejected any possibility of discussing any territorial issue with the Baltic countries many years ago. The President gave a pithy and very clear answer to Riga mentioning the allegedly illegal transferring of the Pytalovsky District of the Pskov Region to Russia.
I will cite the current official statements by Russian representatives, according to which any demands for Russia to return the allegedly annexed territories to Estonia are untenable. The same applies to the demands for our country to pay certain compensations for "Soviet occupation." These topics have been closed once and for all. There’s no need to say that such calls are causing enormous damage to Russia-Estonia relations and put a barrier on the way to improving their general atmosphere and moving forward.
It would be much better if the initiators of such demands spent their indefatigable energy on goals that bring together the peoples of our countries, not the other way round. The sooner they begin to think based on existing realities, the greater the chances of restoring normal neighborly and mutually respectful relations. This fully applies to ratification of Russian-Estonian border treaties. Signed in February 2014, they still cannot enter into force due to additional reservations expressed by Estonia when considering a draft law on ratifying these treaties, which eventually created a salient problem in relations between our countries.
Question: Do you think Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid’s visit to Moscow on April 18 gave a boost to bilateral relations? Is there any sense of warming in bilateral relations?
Alexander Petrov: The fact that there have been no contacts at the level of the heads of our states for more than 10 years now can also be considered a situation that is far from normal. Successful talks took place in Moscow in April, and there were grounds to hope for positive changes. However, someone in Estonia, or perhaps beyond it, clearly didn’t like the idea. It may well be that the above calls involving territorial claims and the like that appeared shortly after the Estonian president’s visit to Moscow can be regarded as a response or as fear of a possible warming in bilateral relations. So, the adjustments were made, which almost ruined the April visit’s positive effect.
Question: In the run-up to the NATO summit in London, Estonian Defence Minister Juri Luik reiterated that Russia is a threat. “We must openly say that Russia is a threat,” Luik said. “There’s no point in hiding or trying to sugarcoat it.” Do you think Russia poses a threat to the West? Or, hiding behind an imaginary threat, Estonia is fishing for EU preferences for itself?
Alexander Petrov: I will refer to Putin’s remarks made in Moscow on November 20 during the Russia Calling! Investment Forum. Everyone is fully aware, the President said, that Russia is not going to attack anyone. I would like it to be absolutely clear not only for the leaders of the leading European countries, but also the Estonian authorities.
In Estonia itself, you can also hear those who are convinced that Russia is not a threat to its security. This is what the former Estonian prime minister said. He spoke in favour of starting communication between representatives of the government of both countries, citing the example of neighbouring Finland, where the president and prime minister are not afraid of such a dialogue that is beneficial for that country. I would like to strongly advise those who, at every opportunity, lament about the imaginary Russian threat to heed such recommendations. They say, however, that no man is a prophet in his own country. In this case, the recent remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that Russia is no longer an enemy of the Alliance can at least somehow help some Estonian politicians to take a different look at our country.