Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Elite Deeply Divided on How to Deal with Estonia

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 11 – The most senior levels of the Russian government are deeply divided on how to react to Estonia’s plans to move a memorial to Soviet war veterans, a situation that may give Tallinn more freedom of action but also one that makes Moscow’s future actions less rather than more predictable.
In an article posted online this week, Tat’yana Stanovaya argues that the Russian elite is divided between “hawks and businessmen,” with the hawks wanting to put pressure on Estonia to reverse course and the businessmen desirous of doing nothing that would upset the transit of Russian oil (
According to the Moscow commentator, First Vice Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and Modest Kolerov who directs the Presidential administration for foreign ties are leaders of the “hawkish” faction. On April 4, Ivanov called for the imposition of a boycott on Estonian exports. And Kolerov has adopted an even tougher line.
Besides supporting Ivanov, the Presidential administrator recently said “if Estonia wants to become a Judas in relation to the memorial of those who fell in the Second World War, one must not do anything to help it avoid the shame of doing so” or “help Estonia to save face.”
Other senior Russian officials, including German Gref as well as a string of Russian Federation cabinet ministers and Duma leaders who intervened in various ways in the run-up to the recent Estonian parliamentary elections, presumably back the hawks on this issue as well.
And these hawks can count on the support of some activists among the ethnic Russian community in Estonia, at least a few of whom have made Moscow’s response to the war memorial a litmus test of the Russian Federation’s on again – off again backing of that community.
But however emotional the issue of the war memorial in Estonia may be for these and other Russians, many in Moscow have taken what Stanovaya calls a more “pragmatic” position, either out of a belief that such an approach will enhance Moscow’s interests or from crude economic calculations.
Among those in the “pragmatist” camp appear to be Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Duma’s international affairs committee. Shortly after Ivanov called for a boycott, Kosachev was quoted as saying that he personally would support the transfer of the war memorial if it were done in a “worthy” manner, a remark he subsequently disavowed.
But, according to Stanovaya, there is a much more powerful group of Russian officials and businessmen who back the pragmatists. Their leader is Gennadiy Timchenko, who not only controls the companies that send Russian oil through Estonia but is known to be one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest supporters.
Because the Kremlin at least for the present wants to present itself as a reliable supplier of oil and gas to Western Europe, he and other businessmen oppose taking any steps against Tallinn or Estonia more generally that might call the Western flows of oil into question.
“The victory of the pragmatic approach,” Stanovaya continues, will “significantly weaken” Kolerov. That may already be happenig: there are unconfirmed rumors in Moscow that the Kremlin may restructure the office Kolerov now heads and thus leave him without a Kremlin job (
Given these divisions in the Russian capital between what might be called the nationalists and the businessmen, Estonian leaders, including both Prime Minister Anders Ansip and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, have more room to maneuver at least in the short term on this issue.
But precisely because Moscow is so divided, its future course of action remains far less predictable. Russia’s approach to Estonia could quickly change if the alignment of forces within the Russian political elite changes either on the issue of the war memorial or something else.
And that very unpredictability means that the relationship between Moscow and Tallinn will remain extremely risky and problematic, however much the pragmatists in both capitals may want it to be otherwise.

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