Estonia vexed by Paris summit with Putin

18th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

TALLINN, March 18 (AFP) - A meeting in Paris between leaders of France, Germany, Spain and Russia, aimed at bolstering ties between the EU and Moscow, has the Baltic state of Estonia worried that its relations with Russia will be discussed without prior consultation, officials said Friday.

TALLINN, March 18 (AFP) - A meeting in Paris between leaders of France, Germany, Spain and Russia, aimed at bolstering ties between the EU and Moscow, has the Baltic state of Estonia worried that its relations with Russia will be discussed without prior consultation, officials said Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Paris on Friday for talks with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The meeting has made former Soviet Baltic republic Estonia, which joined the EU in May last year, jittery, with officials concerned that the relations of the Baltic states with Russia would be discussed behind their backs.

"As a representative of a European Union member country, I cannot accept that the topic of Baltic-Russian relations is included in the meeting's agenda behind our back," Marko Mihkelson, head of the Estonian parliament's foreign affairs committee, told AFP.

"Such a separatist approach to discussing our relations with Russia would be unclear to us," he said, adding: "This will not help in forging a common foreign policy in the EU."

EU member states are currently putting a draft constitution, aimed at streamlining decision-making among the bloc's 25 member states and forging a united foreign policy, to voters and lawmakers for acceptance or rejection.

Foreign policy analyst Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Institute for Foreign Affairs, said Russia has tried to circumvent EU common positions by dealing directly with larger member states.

"The format of great powers discussing matters relating to the Baltic states without their participation brings back tragic historical memories. Our EU partners should be sensitive to this," he said.

"But as long as the EU trio sticks to the EU common positions in their discussions with Putin, then there is no cause for alarm," Kasekamp said.

The Baltic states lost their independence as the result of a 1939 pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which brought the Baltic countries under Soviet influence.

In 1940, the Soviet Union occupied the three countries. This was followed by German occupation the following year.

After the end of World War Two the Soviet occupation continued until Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained their independence in 1991.

Paris said on the eve of the meeting that its aim was to ease tensions between the EU and Russia on several issues, including Moscow's relations with the EU's former Soviet Baltic states.

Anxious Estonian officials asked for clarification from the hosts of the informal meeting, and were told the Baltic issues "were not on the official agenda".

"Should these topics still emerge in the course of the meeting, our partners have asserted they will proceed from the common foreign policy positions of the EU," Estonian Foreign Minister Rein Lang said in a statement Friday.

Moscow has repeatedly criticised Latvia and Estonia for what it calls the discrimination against the sizable Russian-speaking population in the two countries, but the two, new EU members say the accusations are groundless - a view also held by the EU.

The Kremlin was also unhappy when the three former Soviet republics joined the EU and NATO last year.

And the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania have turned down Putin's invitation to attend celebrations in Moscow to mark the victory of Soviet forces over Nazi Germany on May 9 - the date of the start of five decades of Soviet occupation of the Baltic states.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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