A Blank Check for Tallinn
The NATO and European Union spat with Russia over Estonia demonstrates the great dangers in the current dynamics of the East-West relationship.
Let me start with the obvious. Russia's response to the Estonian decision to move a monument to an unnamed Russian soldier and the remnants of Russian servicemen buried under him to a military cemetery was unacceptable. First, as a sovereign country, Estonia is entitled to decide which monuments to keep and where. Second, it is perfectly understandable why a country that was occupied in 1940 by the Soviet Union as a result of a deal between Hitler and Stalin in 1939 and then victimized by purges and suppression of local culture after the Nazi defeat would not view Soviet troops as liberators. It is equally understandable that many in such a country would not necessarily want to see a monument to Soviet soldiers in the center of its capital. Finally, attacks on the Estonian Embassy in Moscow by Kremlin-supported youth groups raise troubling questions about possible incitement by the Russian government of Russian militants in Estonia. Russian efforts to use Russian minorities in the former USSR to undermine their governments could destabilize the whole post-Soviet space and would further complicate relations between Russia and the West. Accordingly, it is perfectly appropriate for the United States, NATO and the European Union to communicate to Russian President Vladimir Putin their strong concern over Russian actions.
But Western governments went beyond expressing concern. They opted to side with Estonia, failing to see the other side of the coin in the Estonian-Russian dispute and sending the wrong message to Moscow (and Tallinn) in the process. What Moscow's critics have failed to acknowledge in this instance is that the conflict over a monument was a manifestation of a larger issue-the treatment of the Russian minority in Estonia since the country became independent in 1991. . . .