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The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson spoke to the Riigikogu at the first reading of the Bill on the Ratification of the Estonian-Russian Border Treaties, saying that the final vote on the treaties will only take place when Russia has reached the same level in proceedings.

“Relations between Estonia and Russia have gone through ups and downs, yet always revolving around the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union. The events of the recent weeks in Ukraine, in particular, confirm that the Kremlin is still holding on to the idea that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the major geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, and must be reversed one way or another. This attitude is in no way conducive to good neighbourly relations,” Mihkelson sain in his speech.

At the same time, he pointed out that under the shared principle in international law the borders between neighbouring countries are to be enshrined in treaties. “Thus the existence of border treaties is a rule rather than an exception. As early as the beginning of the 1990s, the Estonians understood that signing border treaties with Russia would have a positive impact on our security. It would help to increase stability and predictability in the relations between the countries, and would avoid possible misunderstandings in the important issue of state territories. A clearly defined and demarcated border is indeed an important factor that reinforces security,” Mihkelson stated.

Mihkelson said that the historical window of opportunities, once referred to by President Lennart Meri, closed behind us when we managed to become a member of the European Union and NATO so soon after the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1994, thus cementing our independence.

“Today, it would have been nearly impossible for us to be as successful as we were in 2004. Now we see how difficult it is for Georgia to even secure a NATO Membership Action Plan or for Ukraine to approach the EU. Russia’s contemporary foreign policy has always prioritised shunning Western interests and presence in the space of the former Soviet empire. Over the last years this has become considerably more forceful and Russia has also not shied away from using conventional force in the case of Georgia as well as Ukraine,” Mihkelson said.

Against this background, the various Estonian governments have concentrated their relations with Russia over the last two dozen years on the tactics of small steps – concluding agreements where this has been possible and in a way which has not jeopardised our own interests. One such issue has always been that of the Estonian-Russian border treaties.

The Riigikogu had started the preparations for the first reading of the Bill on the Ratification of the State Border Treaty between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation and the Treaty on the Delimitation of Maritime Areas of Narva Bay and the Gulf of Finland between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation (614 SE), initiated by the Government of the Republic on 10 March, at its sitting on 18 March. The Bill was introduced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet, who answered the questions of Committee members.

The discussion reached the conclusion that in the abruptly deteriorated security environment today, Estonia needs a definitely fixed state border and a border treaty with its neighbour to enshrine it. We also need the assurance that the Russian parliament continues to be prepared to ratify the border treaty signed in Moscow on 18 February.

The Foreign Affairs Committee decided by consensus to continue with the border treaty ratification process under the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act, and to complete the first reading of the Bill on the Ratification of the State Border Treaties on 16 April. The Committee also decided that after the completion of the first reading, the second reading and the final vote will only be undertaken when the ratification process has started in the Russian Federation. This is in complete conformity with the earlier opinions of Russian politicians who expressed their wish to move towards the final decisions as simultaneously as possible.

The Bill on the Ratification of the State Border Treaties must pass two readings in the plenary. After the Act is passed, it must be proclaimed by the President of the Republic.