Saturday, February 8, 2020

Moscow’s Anger over Tartu Treaty about More than Estonia, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – Because this is the centenary of the Tartu Peace Treaty in which the RSFSR recognized for all time the independence of the Republic of Estonia, Moscow complaints about the accord have been especially vitriolic and nasty. But that is because for Moscow, the Tartu treaty is about far more than Estonia, Vadim Shtepa says.

            It is not just about borders as some imagine or about state continuity as others insist but in addition, it is about the difference in values held by those in power in Moscow and those defended by the people of Estonia as a full-fledged member of the Western democratic world, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says (

            Moscow by its complaints about the Tartu Peace Treaty shows that it views all agreements as temporary and as something that can be revisited when the balance of forces changes in its favor, while Estonia and the West in defending this accord insist that agreements are to be respected as a necessary foundation of stable international life.

            On February 2, 1920, the RSFSR and Estonia signed a peace agreement in Tartu, a document Estonia considers to be in force to this day and thus the occasion for celebrations but that Moscow views it as having lost all meaning and import because of Estonia’s supposedly voluntary joining the USSR in 1940.

            The document contains words which are hard for present-day Moscow to listen to: It speaks of “the first to free self-determination,” something the Kremlin doesn’t accept except when it suits its own purposes, and of the “former” Russian Empire, something Russia today views itself as the direct continuation of.

            These are far bigger issues than the dispute between Moscow, on the one hand, and some in Estonia, on the other, over the territory the RSFSR acknowledged as part of the Estonian Republic in 1920 but that the USSR after World War II seized and transferred administrative control to the RSFSR.  

            The border issue is still a lively one even though most Estonian officials say they have no wish to inflame the situation by raising it.  But as Shtepa says, “the importance of the Tartu Treaty must not be reduced to the issue of borders. In reality, it is much deeper – it is a question about values.”

            After the Tartu Treaty was concluded, Lenin observed that “this concession isn’t being made forever,” despite the promise in the agreement that Russia was giving up forever its claim to Estonian territory.  And Stalin later tore up the agreement with Estonia just as he did with Finland and Soviet and Russian leaders have done when it suits them.

            On this centenary, the regionalist says, one must think first and foremost about “the problem of trust between countries,” between those who believe that their promises are to be kept and those who assume that any promise it makes today can be broken tomorrow if that is possible and useful.

            Bismarck once observed that “treaties with Russia aren’t worth the paper on which they are written.” So it was and is for Russia’s Tartu Treaty with Estonia.  And that puts Russia on one side of the line about trust and Estonia and her Western allies on the other.

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