June 5, 2015

Blacklist: the Logical Continuation of the Kremlin’s Policy

Estonian Defence Forces

Russia’s blacklist of non grata Europeans is consistent with what the Kremlin itself claims about EU-Russian relations: namely, that Moscow is prepared to get on well with the European Union and that Russia-verstehers could be found in the EU, if only it weren’t for those bad Eastern Europeans. There are 89 names on the list, with a disproportionate 9 percent of them from Estonia. With its eight names, Estonia is tied with Sweden for third place. Poland is in the uncontested lead with 18 names, while the UK ranks second by a hair with nine names. The list also includes people from other former Eastern bloc countries – Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania.

The Estonian names are surprising or unsurprising, depending on how you look at it. Two commanding officers in the Defence Forces, Chief of Defence Riho Terras and Artur Tiganik, are not known as particularly outspoken critics of Russia. That is also the case with the commander of the home guard, Meelis Kiili. Internal Security Service Arnold Sinisalu appears a logical inclusion on the blacklist given that his agency’s annual yearbook does not pull punches, but it is unclear why Ministry of the Interior adviser Andres Parve appears on the list. It is understandable that Tunne Kelam, Kristiina Ojuland and Urmas Reinsalu appear on the list, though perhaps not completely clear, as other people in Estonia have also been critical of Russia, at times in more strident a tone than the latter three.

The European Union has already announced retaliation. President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz said in a statement that the Russian representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov will not be allowed to visit the parliament. Members of both houses of Russian parliament could also face obstacles to access to European Parliament; their permission will be reviewed on a case by case basis.

If we read Estonian European Parliament member Yana Toom’s recent calls not to halt relations with Russia, the wording is understandable. Some kind of dialogue with Russia is better than no dialogue at all. Silence leads to misunderstanding and from there it’s just a short jump to a bigger conflict.

But on the other hand, the EU had to respond in some way. Last year we saw all too often how the EU reacted to Russian action only after a long delay, and then to say only that the EU was deeply or profoundly concerned. The open hostilities that have flared up again in eastern Ukraine only add to the need for the EU to respond. Factor in the high likelihood that Russia is complicit in the FIFA scandal and we see that improving relations with Russia is currently impossible.

It also seems that Russia has yet another list that has not been made public yet. How else to explain the fact that Thomas Schneider, a project manager with the Tallinn-based Konrad Adenauer Foundation, was turned away at the Russian border? Russia’s blacklist and the Schneider case tend not to be remembered by those who beat the drum whenever some pro-Russian activist is expelled from or declared non grata in Estonia. You see, that would be undemocratic, but again, it seems the general rules of play don’t apply to Russia.

Of course, the European Union has previously established entry bans on Russian citizens as part of sanctions. But that was for good reason, and the names are public. In this atmosphere, talk of visa freedom between the European Union and Russia would appear to be just a great a utopia as the ultimate construction of communism in the Soviet Union. Yet visa freedom was still on the table as recently as two years ago. Times have truly changed.

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