Afghanistan Must Become Capable of Taking Over Security Responsibilities
28 January - At the international Afghanistan conference in London, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said during the next few months a situation should be created in which security responsibilities can gradually be handed over to the Afghan authorities.
Paet stated that giving responsibility for the nation’s security to the local authorities is an important step for the building of the Afghan state. “We must also achieve agreements on the extent to which the international community is able to support and finance Afghan security forces,” he added.
At the London conference, Paet confirmed that Estonia will continue to contribute to Afghanistan. “Estonia’s principle is that we will stay in Afghanistan for as long as needed, but we will withdraw our troops as soon as possible,” confirmed the foreign minister.
According to the foreign minister, Estonia is also planning on contributing to Afghanistan’s Peace and Integration Trust Fund. “Afghanistan’s job in the near future is to begin a reconciliation process within society. President Karzai says that everyone who honours Afghanistan’s constitution and is not linked to terrorist organisations is welcome to participate,” said Paet.
The Estonian foreign minister stated that it is also essential to include Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries in the rebuilding process more that previously.
The conference in London is taking place on the foreign ministerial level and all 44 nations that contribute to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghanistan’s close neighbours, the UN, the European Union, and the World Bank have been invited to attend.
Within the framework of the conference, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet also has bilateral meetings scheduled with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Australia, and Turkmenistan.
Paet Met With Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Turkmenistan
29 January - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met in London with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who expressed interest in Estonia’s e-developments. The foreign ministers discussed co-operation opportunities for sharing experiences in order to establish an e-government system in Jordan.
Paet and Judeh discussed Estonia-Jordan foreign political and economic co-operation in the information technology and energy spheres. “We will soon conclude an agreement for the protection of investments with Jordan,” said Foreign Minister Paet. Foreign Minister Paet also invited his Jordanian colleague to visit Estonia and for Jordan to take part in the Tallinn European Capital of Culture 2011 events.
In talking about the Middle East peace process, Foreign Minister Paet noted that Estonia highly values Jordan’s active participation in trying to find a resolution to the conflict to achieve peace and stability in the region.
At the meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov, the topic of discussion was intensifying political and economic ties between Estonia and Turkmenistan. “Estonia would like to conclude an agreement for the avoidance of double taxation with Turkmenistan,” stated Foreign Minister Paet. He added that Estonia would like to find and appoint an honorary consul to Turkmenistan.
Paet stated that Turkmenistan is an important energy partner for the European Union and that Turkmenistan, as the biggest gas producer in the Caspian region, plays a key role in the implementation of the “Southern Corridor” projects.
Ansip to Take Part in Sapporo Ski Marathon Prior to Japan Visit
1 February (BNS) - Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip will take part in the Sapporo ski marathon the weekend prior to the start of his official visit to Japan in the middle of this month.
Ansip will fly to Japan on Friday, 12 February, and the Sapporo International Ski Marathon, a 50-km freestyle event, will take place on Sunday, 14 February, government spokesperson Kateriin Leini told BNS. She added that the costs related to participating in the event will be paid by Ansip himself.
The prime minister will arrive in Tokyo Sunday evening and the official programme of his visit will start on Monday, 15 February. On the same day Ansip will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The visit will end on Wednesday, 17 February.
The purpose of the visit is to intensify relations between Estonia and Japan, especially economic co-operation. The prime minister will be accompanied on the trip by a business delegation.
Defence Minister Gives Speech to Commemorate Victims of Holocaust
27 January (BNS) - In his speech at the memorial dedicated to Holocaust victims in Klooga on Wednesday, Estonian Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo appealed to everyone to pay respect to Holocaust victims. "This year marks the passage of 70 years since the establishment of one of the most monstrous historical landmarks, the Auschwitz death camp, and 65 years since its downfall. Death camps built by the Nazi regime symbolise the atrocities people experienced in all the occupied countries," Aaviksoo said.
Aaviksoo also said that cultural autonomy was promised to the Jewish people in the Estonian Manifesto of Independence, and it was natural that Jews were prepared to defend Estonia's freedom and their rights by taking up arms shoulder to shoulder with Estonians. He added that the War of Independence Monument opened last year was, among others, dedicated also to the more than two hundred soldiers of Jewish stock who defended Estonia's independence.
"In the summer of 1940, the Soviet Union destroyed Estonia's independence and simultaneously the Jewish cultural autonomy established in 1925. On 14 June 1941 the Soviet occupation authorities deported 10% of the local Jewish population, proportionally the biggest number among the peoples who lived in Estonia."
He said that the sufferings of the Jewish people were crowned in 1941 when the terror of the next occupation, that of Nazi Germany, arrived in this country in the summer and fall of 1941.
Estonia has repeatedly and resolutely condemned the crimes against humanity committed by the henchmen of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, both Nazi and communist. On 18 June last year the Estonian parliament acceded to the appeal of the European Parliament to declare 23 August a day of remembrance of the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
"Today we lower our heads in mourning for all those who were killed or suffered,” he said.
Aaviksoo thanked the Estonian Jewish community for its work and its contribution to the Estonian state. "The life of the Jewish community in Estonia is an example to all of us. I also thank all the associations who regard it important to maintain places connected with the Holocaust in a good condition everywhere in Estonia. It is necessary to continue that work."
According to the Foreign Ministry, Estonia has answered to Poland's appeal for contributing to the memory of holocaust victims and made a 20 000 euro donation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation for the upkeep of its museum.
It has become a tradition in Estonia to remember victims of the Holocaust at the location of the Klooga death camp built by the national socialist occupation regime, which is also the location of one of the memorials dedicated to the victims.
This Year Marks 90th Anniversary of Tartu Peace Treaty
2 February - At the opening of the room commemorating the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty on February 2 in Tartu, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet emphasised that the conclusion of the peace treaty brought peace to homes and clarity to Estonia-Russia relations. “The Tartu Peace Treaty is a milestone that ended Estonia’s definitive and determined, but also hazardous, path towards peace and freedom,” stated Paet. “With the peace treaty, Russia forever recognised Estonia’s independence,” he added.
Foreign Minister Paet recalled that the desire for peace and freedom was expressed in our forefathers’ “Manifest for all the Peoples of Estonia” declared on 24 February 1918—Estonia’s declaration of independence. “Estonia’s declaration of independence is a generous and open-minded document that promised to guarantee freedom not just for Estonians, but for all the peoples living on Estonian soil. At a time when great empires were crumbling and every nation was busy establishing itself, frequently at the expense of other peoples living on the same land, our declaration of independence was fairly remarkable,” said Foreign Minister Paet.
Paet stated that we owe our gratitude to those people who, with their activities on two battlegrounds—among the snowdrifts and at the negotiations table—managed to remain themselves and help to reach a peace agreement, which was born in the early hours of 2 February in the town of Tartu.
Foreign Minister Paet stated that the War of Independence confirmed that Estonia was not alone in its battle for freedom. “We owe our thanks to Finland, Sweden, Great Britain and Denmark, who all came to our assistance. We also owe our thanks to Estonian Baltic Germans, Russians, Ingrians, Jews, Latvians, and people of many other ethnicities who lived here and who did not spare themselves in the fight for one common Estonia,” he added.
Paet said that the Tartu Peace Treaty has been named Estonia’s most important foreign agreement in history, as well as Estonia’s “birth certificate”.
Gulf of Riga and Pärnu Bay Fully Frozen Over
27 January (BNS) - The Estonian Maritime Administration said that the whole Gulf of Riga and Pänu Bay are covered with ice. From Irbe Strait to Ruhnu Island the ice is 10-15 cm thick, and from Ruhnu to Kihnu Island and further to Pärnu Port it is 25-50 centimeters thick, Martin Kaarjärv, head of the wintertime navigation service at the Maritime Administration, told BNS.
The multifunctional ship EVA-316 is currently breaking ice on the Gulf of Riga.
On the Gulf of Finland the ice-bound area is expected to move west if such cold continues and the thickness of ice steadily increases.
Kaarjärv said that if necessary, the icebreaker Tarmo would help ships from the ports of Paldiski Bay get to to Sillamäe Port. At present the Tarmo is east of Aksi Island waiting for a ship that needs help in arriving at Kunda to leave Muuga Port.
An additional icebreaker will be chartered into the Gulf of Finland in case of need, but at present, Kaarjärv said, the country could manage with its own resources.
Official Ice Road Opened Between Estonia’s Largest Islands
30 January (BNS) - An ice road between Estonia's largest islands Saaremaa and Hiiumaa was opened to traffic on Saturday morning.
The 15-kilometer track is open from 8:30 a.m. till 5 p.m., the road information centre said. Only vehicles with a mass of up to two tons are allowed on the road.
Another ice road connecting the north-western town of Haapsalu and the port of Osterby on Noarootsi Peninsula is also open to traffic. The vehicle mass limit for that 2.9-kilometer track is likewise two tons.
One Third of Prescriptions Written Digitally in Estonia
2 February (BNS) - One third of the total number of prescriptions written by doctors in Estonia now are digital, and in January approximately 306 000 such prescriptions were written, the Ministry of Social Affairs said.
During the first month of the transition to digital prescriptions, more than 150 000 items of medicines were sold on the basis of such prescriptions. The number of pharmacies accepting digital prescriptions rose above 420 by the end of the month and the number of doctors who have written a digital prescription at least once is approximately 2 300.
Erki Laidmäe, chief medicines specialist at the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, pointed out that as of now almost a third of all prescriptions are written digitally.
"In the opinion of the Health Insurance Fund this is quite a big share, and we would like to thank all doctors and pharmacies for their good work," Laidmäe said.
Standing out as frontrunners in the switch to digital prescriptions are the Central Hospital of East Tallinn and the Regional Hospital of North Estonia. The hospitals of Narva and Pärnu and the Clinical Hospital of the University of Tartu also were mentioned by the ministry as good performers.
Some media have speculated in recent days that the full adoption of the digital prescriptions system in Estonia may be delayed after a troubled launch of the service in January.
An interim period has been announced until 1 March when both digital and paper prescriptions can be used. Due to some software problems in January, the interim period may be extended, it was reported. Estonia would be the first country in Europe to fully switch to digital prescriptions.
Aaviksoo: A Year of Intense Co-operation Ahead for Estonia and United States
29 January - Yesterday Minister of Defence Jaak Aaviksoo met with USA’s new ambassador to Estonia Michael C. Polt, with whom issues related to bilateral defence co-operation were discussed.
Minister of Defence Aaviksoo stated that defence co-operation between Estonia and its strategic ally the United States has improved in terms of substance, efficiency and strategic scope. “The new year will involve a number of joint exercises, including the host nation support exercise ‘Baltic Host’ held between the US and the Baltic states, as well as the US marines’ landing exercise in Estonia and joint ground forces exercise in Latvia,” the minister noted. In addition, the minister also highlighted plans to increase the countries’ mutual co-operation in Afghanistan.
The US ambassador stated that the upcoming bilateral engagements are a sign of close ties between the two countries. Both men also assured that the principle of collective defence shall remain the cornerstone of NATO.
Michael C. Polt is the US ambassador to Estonia since December 2009.
ESTCOY-9 Organises Meeting of Village Elders in Afghanistan
2 February (BNS) - The Estonian infantry company ESTCOY-9 serving in Afghanistan organised a meeting at the Wahid patrol base at which the regional governor and officials met with local village leaders.
The meeting, or shura, on 30 January was attended by 50 influential residents from surrounding villages, and considering that it took place in a remote area of the restless Helmand Province, the shura turned out a success, spokespeople at the General Staff in Tallinn said. The shura provided a venue for the governor of the Nad Ali region of Helmand Province, Nabiullah, and his officials to meet with local villagers.
Capt. Viljar Kurg, press officer for the Estonian contingent, said that mutual respect has emerged between the majority of local villagers and ESTCOY-9. "Unlike the Taliban, it's always pleasant to communicate with you. You always listen to our concerns and try to help where possible," he quoted one of the village elders attending the shura as saying.
The locals consider a safe environment a prerequisite for solving all other problems. They do not want Taliban presence, but the local community does not have enough strength to put up resistance on its own, Capt. Kurg said.
The locals clearly expressed the wish that in addition to the allies, the power structures of Afghanistan, especially the army, should look after security in the villages. "This shows the trust of the locals in the army and other units of the Afghan power structures," said Kurg. The locals also named providing of education and reopening of marketplaces as important.
In addition to the governor, the meeting was attended by a battalion commander of the Afghan national army, who called on the villages to send their young men to serve in the army.
At the end of the meeting, carpets, blankets and drawing utensils for children were presented to the village elders on behalf of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Capt. Kurg stressed that even though the shura was a meeting first and foremost between the locals, ESTCOY-9 had an important role to play. "ESTCOY-9 has, from the start of its operations in November 2009, tried to take into account in its activity all aspects of this complex conflict, especially the local people," he said, describing the successful shura as an important milestone in the activity of the Estonian unit so far.
He pointed out that besides carrying out operations, the Estonian unit has been constantly helping locals, be it through the provision of medical assistance, launching of different reconstruction projects, or simply maintaining a human face in communication.
Capt. Kurg also observed that the shura's success shows that the recent operations by the Afghan security forces and ISAF in the area around Wahid have significantly reduced the influence of the Taliban on locals. He explained that village elders from villages under Taliban control would perhaps have feared to attend the shura.
Prime Minister Thanked Soldiers Who Served in Missions Abroad and Their Families
27 January - With a formal reception, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip thanked members of the Defence Forces who served Estonia on missions abroad last year, their loved ones, and all those people in Estonia who understand the necessity of the missions.
“You are helping to increase the security of the whole world and helping countries currently unable to manage their affairs themselves,” Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said, speaking in front of members of the Defence Forces and thanking them. The head of government also thanked the loved ones – parents, grandparents, spouses, children and friends – of all the soldiers for their support and understanding. “Serving that far from home would not be possible without the support of loved ones – many thanks to you as well,” Ansip said. Most of the members of the Defence Forces who visited Stenbock House on the Prime Minister’s invitation served in the Estcoy-8 infantry company in Afghanistan and in the Estcoy-E additional company dispatched to Afghanistan for the duration of the elections.
“Your period of service was the harshest among the members of the Defence Forces who have participated in the operation in Afghanistan to date,” conceded Brigadier General Neeme Väli, Commander of the General Staff of the Defence Forces. Over a period of six months, Estcoy-8 carried out 300 patrols or other tactical tasks and engaged in 90 instances of combat, with a total of 47 improvised explosive devices located. “The work you are doing for the benefit of your country and people is the work of a soldier; however, it is now in the past for you. We take sincere pride in you,” Väli said. At the same time, Väli expressed pleasure that Estonian soldiers had successfully completed their work in Iraq and soon also in Kosovo.
At today’s reception there was also a moment of silence to honour the memory of soldiers that have fallen on missions. “The freedom of a small people is dear. Your co-combatants made the ultimate sacrifice for Estonia – their life – to defend the freedom of Estonia both now and in the future,” Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said, lowering his head in memory of the fallen soldier’s.
The prime minister also thanked members of the Defence Forces who participated in the mission to Kosovo. ESTRIF-5, a reconnaissance platoon assembled based on the National Defence League, operated as part of the Danish battalion located in the vicinity of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo.
Last year, members of the Defence Forces defended Estonia’s interests in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and, as an observer of the UN, in Lebanon. In total, there were approximately 600 members of the Defence Forces on missions abroad in 2009. Currently, there are 194 members of the Defence Forces on missions abroad.
Port of Tallinn Earned EUR 26 Million in Profit Last Year
1 February (BNS) - The net profit of the Estonian state-owned Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam) in 2009 was 407.8 million kroons (EUR 26 mln), 2 percentage points less than in 2008.
The consolidated revenue of the port in 2009 totalled 1.267 million kroons according to non-audited figures, up 8% on year. This is the all-time best result for the Port of Tallinn, the company said.
The port's operating profit before depreciation (EBITDA) totalled 840 million kroons, up by 11% on year.
The loan burden of the company totalled 2.6 billion kroons, up 273 million kroons on year. The ratio of the loan burden to EBITDA was 3.1, which testifies to the strong financial situation of the Port of Tallinn, of its ability to pay considerable dividends to the owner and simultaneously carry out all the planned major investments, the port said.
The cargo throughput of the Port of Tallinn was 31.6 million tons, up nearly 9% on year. As a result, the Port of Tallinn once again became the third biggest port on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, after the ports of Primorsk and of St. Petersburg, going ahead of Riga, Ventspils and Klaipeda.
Despite a complicated economic environment and the fallen consumption the number of passengers remained at the level achieved in 2008 throughout the last year.
During the year, a record 7.26 million passengers passed through harbours of the Port of Tallinn in 2009.
Grain Crop Up Two Percent in 2009
28 January (BNS) - Estonia's total grain crop in 2009 was 879 000 tons, marking an increase of 2% over the preceding year, according to preliminary figures by Statistics Estonia.
The crop of rape and turnip rape seed – 135 700 tons – was the largest of the last decade.
Estonia's 2008 grain crop was affected by the rainy harvesting period, as a result of which particularly the yield of spring crops was smaller than expected. In 2009 the climatic conditions were relatively favourable for harvesting and harvesting could be carried out in time.
Overall, 39 100 tons of rye, 345 600 tons of wheat and 379 900 tons of barley were harvested in 2009. Compared to 2008, the production of rye decreased and the production of wheat and barley increased.
The sown area of grain totalled 316 100 hectares and the average yield per hectare was 2 781 kilograms. The average yield was 2 603 kilograms for rye, 3 033 kilograms for wheat and 2 703 kilograms for barley.
The cultivation of rapeseed has become more and more popular during the last decade. The previous year's yield was the biggest of the last decade, exceeding the previous record dating from 2007 by 2 400 tons, Statistics Estonia said.
In 2009, the sown area of rape and turnip rape was 81 500 hectares. The average yield was 1 665 kilograms of rape and turnip rape seed per hectare.
Estonia's potato crop amounted to 139 400 tons in 2009, 11% more than in the year before. Potatoes were grown on 9 100 hectares and the average yield was 15 298 kilograms per hectare.
Elektriraudtee to Acquire 18 New Trains with EU Assistance
28 January (BNS) - The European Commission Wednesday endorsed the application of Estonia's AS Elektriraudtee (Electric Railway) for the purchase of 18 up-to-date environmentally-friendly electric trains.
Economic Affairs and Communications Minister Juhan Parts signed the decision to fund the domestic project on 2 July last year, which made it possible to launch the project before the Commission's decision, the ministry said.
Last year Elektriraudtee announced an open international public procurement tender with the deadline for bids on 15 February 2010.
The Cohesion Fund will support the purchase of trains with 1.1 billion kroons (EUR 70.3 mln).
The ministry said that it was the first decision of funding a major Estonian transport project. There are two more major Estonian transport projects being handled by the European Commission – building of the Vao-Maardu section of the Tallinn-Narva motor road and reconstruction of the Ülemiste traffic hub in Tallinn.
Projects with a cost of more than 50 million euros need the approval of the European Commission.
FY Profit of Tallinn Vesi Water Company Grows 15 Percent
29 January (BNS) - The listed Estonian water utility company Tallinna Vesi has posted a net profit of 339.9 million kroons (EUR 21.7 mln) for 2009, which marks an increase of 14.9 percent over the 296 million kroons netted in 2008.
The company's operating profit margin in 2009 was 59.8%, up from 56.3% in 2008. Profit before taxes in the twelve months of 2009 was 401.1 million kroons, 10.7% higher than in 2008.
Total sales of Tallinna Vesi grew 7.3% year on year to 772.4 million kroons. Sales of water and wastewater treatment totalled 707.4 million kroons, a 7.5% increase compared to 2008.
Operating profit from the company's main business activity, sales of water and wastewater, increased 9.8% year on year to 414.4 million kroons.
Investments in fixed assets made during 2009 totalled 251.6 million kroons. The company said it continues to maintain its leverage level within the target range of 50%, with the ratio of total liabilities to total capital standing at 48.1% as of 31 December 2009. Long-term liabilities stood at 1.176 billion kroons at the end of December.
The number of employees of Tallinna Vesi at year-end was 336, compared with 326 at the end of 2008.
Net profit in the final quarter of the year grew 35.2% over the respective period of 2008 to 125.5 million kroons.
Tallinna Vesi's water and sewerage tariffs decreased by 0.9% in 2010, and according to the services agreement between the company and the city of Tallinn there will not be any real tariff increase until the end of the contract period in 2020 in the main service area, the company said.
As of 31 December 2009, United Utilities BV held 35.3% of the shares of Tallinna Vesi, the City of Tallinn held 34.7% and Credit Suisse Securities Ltd Prime Brokerage, 5.67%.
Competition for Estonian-Latvian and Latvian-Estonian Translation Award Begins
29 January - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš today announced the opening of the competition to recognise the best Estonian and Latvian translators. The best translator of 2009 will be announced in March of this year.
Foreign Minister Paet stated that the goal of the Estonian-Latvian translation award is to express the value of works that have already been translated and inspire young Estonian-Latvian and Latvian-Estonian translators. “The Estonian-Latvian and Latvian-Estonian translation award emphasises the importance of the Estonian and Latvian languages as well as cultural exchange in order to advance the professionalism of translators of literature as well as political, popular science, historical, sociological, memoirs and other texts,” asserted Paet.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that the translation award demonstrates the extremely good relations between the ministries of Estonia and Latvia. “The translation award, which is being financed by the Estonian and Latvian foreign ministries, is a unique and positive precedent in the work of both ministries,” said Paet.
The agreement that established the Estonian-Latvian and Latvian-Estonian translation award was signed by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš on 18 February 2009. The monetary value of the award is 3 000 euros, to which both sides are contributing equally. The jury will be brought together each year on an ex officio basis—it will contain the ambassadors of the two nations, the heads of the cultural departments of the two foreign ministries, and the directors of each nation’s literature information centre.
The idea to establish the award came from Estonian Ambassador to Latvia Jaak Jõerüüt and Latvian Ambassador to Estonia Kārlis Eihenbaums.
Nominations for the competition can be made using the application form found on the Foreign Ministry’s home page. The deadline for nominations is 19 February 2010.