Speech by Trivimi Velliste at the NUPI-CSIS Conference on Baltic and Nordic Security

Mr. Trivimi Velliste, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
Oslo, September 21, 1993

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Esteemed Colleagues and Guests,

Security is an issue which is near and dear to Estonian hearts.

At this conference, we are speaking in abstract terms of the requirements of security, the lessons of the past and the hope that regional cooperation may hold for a more stable future.

But in Estonia, security goes far beyond the abstract, far beyond a future theoretical consideration, for us, it is an acutely tangible concern here and now. It is a fact -- foreign occupation troops remain on our soil. It is a fact --- the number of fully trained and de-mobilized troops from the former Soviet armed forces in our country -- some 10,000 or so -- is five times the size of our fledgling and poorly-equipped defense forces, not to mention that Russian fighter planes need but 17 minutes to reach Tallinn from take off in locations within the Leningrad oblast.

In short, for us, security is an immediate concern.

On that background, I would like to speak to you today about two developments that shape current thinking in Tallinn about Nordic and Baltic security. First, I will outline Russia's concept of the so-called "Near Abroad," and how that concept appears to be driving Moscow's behaviour toward states on its periphery, including the Baltic states. Second, I will discuss recent moves to expand NATO to include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and how we in Estonia view those expansion plans in light of our own and Europe's security needs.

In early 1992, theoreticians in Russian policymaking circles began talking about a concept they called "the Near Abroad." First put forth by then-deputy Foreign Minister Fyedor Shelov-Kovedayev in March, the idea of the "Near Abroad" referred to non-Russian former Soviet republics. The assumption behind the concept is that Russia is an internationally accepted leader in its area and, as such, must bear greater responsibility for stability on its periphery. Thus, as the argument goes, because of the "Near Abroad's" historic ties to Russia, because of the large numbers of Russians living in the "Near Abroad" and because of the region's geographic proximity to the heartland, Russia must develop a differentiated approach to the area that was qualitatively different from its approach to the "Far Abroad." Stripped of its conceptual window dressing, what these Russian theoreticians were in fact talking about was a newly defined buffer zone, a kind of sphere of influence, if you will, on the periphery of the Russian Federation.

As the year 1992 wore on, the number of references to the "Near Abroad" increased in the writings of Russia's foreign policy community and the concept was fleshed out and given shape. In July 1992, a First Secretary in the Russian Foreign Ministry's Legal department, Mr. Trofimov, published an article in the ministry's journal Diplomaticheskij Vestnik entitled "Russia and the Baltic: How to Continue to Live". Trofimov's article discussed the increasing attention that the "Near Abroad", especially the Baltic states, was demanding in Russian foreign policy. Among other things, Trofimov argued for continued troop presence in the Baltic states, since those troops were an economic boost for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He suggested that the Baltic states themselves were interested in heightening tensions in relations with Russia, that the Balts harboured territorial claims on Russian land and that the Balts had voluntarily joined the Soviet Union. Trofimov concluded his essay with a veiled threat by saying, (and I quote) that "the paradox of relations between Russia and the Baltic States lies in the fact that in the present situation, those relations can be improved by means that in other circumstances would lead to a souring of relations" (end of quote).

If Trofimov's article contained but veiled threats, his colleague Sergei Karaganov, who served at the time as Deputy Director of the European Institute in Moscow, clarified matters in another Diplomaticheskij Vestnik article in the Fall of 1992. Entitled "Problems in Defending the Rights of Russian-oriented Residents of the "Near Abroad," Karaganov outlined the utility of using defense of Russian-speakers in non-Russian territories as a tool of foreign policy. In a calculating fashion, Karaganov admits that the argument of defending Russian-speaking populations is unethical and impractical. He suggests instead couching the policy in terms more acceptable tot he international community: (I quote) "We have to make the basis of Russian foreign policy regarding Russian-speaking populations the position that we are defending human and minority rights throughout the entire territory of the former USSR" (end of quote).

Karaganov does not stop there. He discusses high-priority areas for putting the policy to work, such as in the Baltic states, that could serve as an example to other post-Soviet states: (again I quote): "We need to start from political leverage points as is being done in Latvia and Estonia. It was our mistake that we slept in the processes which had begun there. However, precedents are being set there which, if we do not stifle these from the beginning, will also spread into Russia. If we permit the breaking of the zero-citizenship rule, we will open a Pandora's box, which will come back to haunt us in twenty years. Nations will change, borders will change, and, referring to precedent,each one of these can exclude their minorities from citizenship" (end of quote).

Finally, Karaganov discussed the means for implementing a differentiated policy in the "Near Abroad" under the guise of protection of human rights (I quote): "With regard to the use of force, as a historian and international expert, I can say that everything cannot be solved by force. But in the situation into which we are presently being drawn, force can solve a great deal. How to use force? If we began to use it because we are stronger, it would be terrible. We need legitimacy. At this time, we need to prepare public opinion and international organizations so that they would acknowledge the need for the limited use of force within a legal framework" (end of quote).

Those article were written in mid-to late 1992. How has the "Near Abroad" idea played out since then? If we look to Russia's periphery, we see that from Tajikistan to Georgia to Azerbaijan, Russian military commanders have thrown their weight behind old-style Communist regimes against democratically elected leaders. In Ukraine, Russia has staked a claim on the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region. In Moldova, the 14th Army is supporting local Russian secessionists and threatening the territorial integrity of that state. And all the while, according to the plan outlined in the theoretical literature last year, Russia is making a bid to resolve conflicts created or aggravated by its very own policies by acting as a peacekeeper under international auspices.

While some observers dismiss the concept of a new buffer zone as rhetoric intended to quell the fears of hardliners at home, the fact that a long row of high Russian officials have joined the chorus strongly suggests that in Moscow, the "Near Abroad" is an officially-sanctioned idea whose time has come.

In June of this year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin alluded to military intervention, adding that Estonia was forgetting the geopolitical realities of its location. And last month, on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in a statement that was either a colossal diplomatic bungle or was timed with cold-blooded calculation, Russia's presidential spokesman Vjatseslav Kostikov made a direct reference to the preservation of spheres of influence when he said (and I quote), "Powers that seek to force Russia out of the Baltic region must take into account that for centuries, Russia has been engaged in this geopolitical area and has made considerable material and intellectual investments in developing this area" (end of quote).

All of these references by theoreticians and high-ranking Russian leaders alike have the combined effect of making Estonia feel rather insecure. It should also make Western democracies feel uneasy to hear serious discussion of geopolitical realities and spheres of influence, not to mention the use of force.

Because Russia's intentions toward the Baltic states arguably play a significant role in Baltic and Nordic security as a whole, and because the central focus of this conference's meetings tomorrow is regional security arrangements, I would turn now to my second point, which is the need for institutional ties to help bolster the security of the Baltic states.

Undeniably, NATO plays a leading role in European security and will continue to do so in whatever form it assumes. It is clear that NATO must redefine its role, redefine its very purpose to adapt to and become an actual part of the new reality on the European continent. The new reality is integration, based on common economic and political values and based on a desire to work together. But as has been recognized with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, if cooperation is to work, it has to be cooperation on all fronts, in all spheres, and this includes security. For this basic reason, Estonia is heartened and applauds recent developments towards the expansion of NATO with the inclusion of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

At the same time, however, we cannot help but view this development with mixed feelings. We are frustrated by the hard judge of history, a result of which we, in the Baltics, are viewed as being outside the realm of consideration for similar moves. It is perhaps ironic to note that on some level, we wish the Soviet Union had lasted a bit longer than it did. This is because we believe that had more than four months elapsed between our reinstatement of independence in the aftermath of the coup attempt in August 1991, and the final collapse of the Soviet Union in December of that same year, then, we, too, might have had the opportunity to make clear to the West that the Visegrad Four might be better termed the Visegrad Seven.

Some observers already think of us as being similar in development with the main candidates for NATO inclusion. I refer here to Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski's remarks earlier this summer that the four post-socialist states well on their way to normalcy are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary...and Estonia. Although Brzezinski was thinking in economic terms, in the New Europe, economic and security issues are increasingly related.

In June of this year, the European Council took a significant step in clearly stating that the Baltic countries are approaching the Community step by step. If NATO is to truly become a part of the European integration process, it would make sense that NATO follow suit. A parallel broadening of the EC and NATO would bring integration on the economic and security arenas into sync with one another. But more than that, such a parallel process would recognize the fact that the Baltic states, in all spheres, belong to and influence the New Europe. As Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt so accurately noted just last week, and I quote, "although Moscow might see the Baltic states as its "near abroad", it is our task to make it clear that they are just as much the "near abroad" of the European Union and all its members states."

On this note, I would refer to a recent open letter signed by a host of political luminaries and published in the Wall Street Journal in September entitled "What the West Must Do in Bosnia." I have always been, and will continue to be the first to dismiss all attempts to draw parallels between the heinous bloodshed in Bosnia and our situation.

Still, if we consider Russia's concept of the "Near Abroad", its developing policy toward sovereign states at its periphery and its attempts at becoming a peacekeeper at that periphery, then the open letter holds an important message for the West regarding Baltic security. I quote from the letter: "Even if, like Kuwait in August 1990, all Bosnia (and not just Sarajevo) were seized, it would be essential for the democracies to make clear, as they did in the case of Kuwait, that violent border changes and ethnic cleansing will not stand. If the West does not make that clear, it will have nothing persuasive to say to the Croats and the Serbs who have already renewed the conflict Serbia started two years ago. Finally, the West will have nothing to say to discourage the now serious threat presented by pan-nationalists in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere" (end of quote).

The tragic mistake with Bosnia is one Europe cannot afford to make again. If the New Europe is to succeed, all who belong in the New Europe must be seen as relevant, and western democracies must be willing to stand by the principles upon which those states and societies are based. We in Estonia believe they will. We must believe that, because we share these ideals, and these ideals necessarily are a cornerstone to our security.

I thank you.