Interview with Estonian President Ilves 'The EU Is Virtually Complicit with Moscow'

It has been three months since Russia withdrew from Georgia, but not everyone is happy with the EU's stance toward Moscow. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves warns about EU passivity in its relations with Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. President, in mid- August, you made a point of visibly hurrying to Tbilisi right after Russian soldiers began marching into Georgia. Do you think European Union relations with Russia are returning to normal too soon?

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: There is certainly a part of the block that would like to get back to business as usual as soon as possible. But the invasion shows that the silent accord from 1991 is now off the table. The accord stated that Russia could do whatever it wanted within its own borders -- even if it meant bombing Chechnya -- and that people beyond its borders could make their own decisions. That is no longer the case.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it not understandable why Moscow might find it unsettling to have NATO advancing all the way to its doorstep?

Ilves: Moscow regards former Soviet states as lying within its sphere of influence. Should one respect that viewpoint but not respect the decisions of Georgia and Ukraine to pursue democracy and closer ties with the West?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Moscow's pretext for invading Georgia was to protect the Russian minority. One-third of Estonia's population speaks Russian. Does your country have anything to be afraid of?

Ilves: There is practically nowhere else in the world where Russians can live their culture as fully as they can in Estonia. What do these people need protection against? Liberal democracy? As a member of NATO, we don't have to be afraid of any invasion.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Estonia is calling for Ukraine and Georgia to be offered entry into the EU as a way of wresting them away from Russian influence.

Ilves: Yes, but unfortunately no one wants these countries, and there is enlargement fatigue especially among the old EU countries. But we need to offer them more, such as the further dismantling of trade barriers. Brussels though hasn't made any overtures, not even on the question of visas. In Russia, it is easier to get a visa into the EU than it is in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. These policies make the EU virtually complicit when it comes to Moscow's sphere of influence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what do you attribute this weak stance?

Ilves: Many EU countries are dependent on Russia to a significant degree. In 2007, for example, German exported €28 billion ($36 billion) in goods to Russia and imported €20 billion ($25.7 billion) in natural gas and oil.

SPIEGEL: What opportunities does the European Union have to stand up to Moscow?

Ilves: First and foremost, we need to develop a common energy policy in order to escape this dependency. Europe needs to face up to the problems that exist; it must comply with the rules agreed upon with Russia and demand that Moscow comply as well. Russia was even slow to implement the six point plan for ending the war in Georgia. The troop withdraw was only done sluggishly. As always, Europe just kept its eyes shut.

Interview conducted by Jan Puhl

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