Friday, May 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: FSB Says Pskov Russians Who Take Estonian Citizenship Harm Russia

Paul Goble

Baku, May 24 – More than 10,000 residents of Pskov oblasts now have dual citizenship with Estonia, a situation the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) there say reflects Tallinn’s effort to expand its economic and political influence on the territory of the Russian Federation and that threatens Russian national interests.
Ivan Bobryashov, head of the border administration of the FSB in there, said this week that in Pskov’s Pechora region, many of them work in local government and law enforcement and thus give Estonia the change of “realizing its strivings for economic and political expansion on the territory of Russia” (
The FSB officer pointed out that Tallinn and Moscow have still not concluded a final border treaty – one was signed by both and ratified by Estonia but denounced by Russia when the Estonian parliament included a statement about the 1920 Tartu Treaty in its ratification document.
That earlier accord, which many Estonians view as the birth certificate of their state, included Pechora within Estonia. At the end of World War II, Stalin moved the border westward, something many Estonians do not like but that the Estonian government had decided to agree to in order to get an agreement.
And Bobryashov noted that many of these dual citizens prefer to serve in the Estonian military which is part of NATO where the length of service is only eight months instead of the Russian military where draftees now serve for 12. The FSB officer’s reference to this obviously touches a hot button issue for many Russians elsewhere.
(Bobryashov’s suggestion that large numbers of such dual citizens are serving in the Estonian army is disputed by local Russian officials. A member of the Pskov legislative assembly said the FSB officer was exaggerating and that there are no more than a handful of such dual citizens in the Estonian forces (
But the most important reason Russians in Pechora who can take dual citizenship are doing so is because it confers real advantages for those travelling into and around the European Union now that Estonia is part of the Schengen area. As Estonians, they can move without restrictions; as Russians only, they would have to get visas for many countries.
On the one hand, Bobryashov’s remarks are part of a larger Russian effort to keep tensions with the Baltic countries at a level where Moscow can exploit them when it wants to, as witness the current dustup over the trial of the a Hero of the Soviet Union for crimes against humanity in Estonia ( or suggestions that part of Lithuania is ready to secede (
But on the other, such comments reflect a deeper Russian concern about a fundamental shift in assimilation patterns. Until very recently, Russia was an assimilating nation, absorbing others. Now, there is increasing evidence that ethnic Russians are being assimilated by others, including even the Chinese (
Given the self-conception of most Russians, that is a disturbing change, and it is thus not surprising that the FSB and other parts of the Russian government should occasionally play to it, a not so subtle reminder that the Russian Federation is in fact if not in theory becoming a “Russia for the Russians” as three-quarters of ethnic Russians say they want.

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