Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When Putin Came to Estonia – in 1991

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Vladimir Putin has never visited Estonia as Russian president, but he did come to that Baltic republic once in September 1991 as a St. Petersburg official to help draft an agreement between Tallinn and Moscow on rules governing the crossing of the state border between the two countries.

            Putin’s visit has been referred to on occasion in the past but now Eesti Ekspress provides some new details about it (; in Russian, at

            On September 17, 1991, Estonian Prime Minister Edgard Savisaar dispatched his advisor Yevgeny Vasiliyev to Narva to meet with Putin who at that time was foreign policy chief for the St. Petersburg mayor to prepare a protocol on regulating the crossing of the Estonian-Russian border at Narva.

            At that time, the Estonian newspaper points out, Estonian Foreign Minister Lennart Meri was occupied with relations with the West, but “in the eastern direction, Edgard Savisaar” was the dominant player and discussed agreements directly with Moscow and with officials like Putin from Russia’s Leningrad Oblast.

            According to an aide to Vasiliyev, the talks with Putin did not result in any significant changes in the protocol which had been prepared earlier by a joint team of experts, “but at the request of St. Petersburg [that is, Putin] one point was added concerning the transfer of money across the border.”

            As a result of this, the two sides agreed that they needed to “develop temporary rules of control about the dispatch of money across the border by October 10. Putin several times telephoned from St. Petersburg and gave his agreement to the decisions.” Reportedly, there was respect shown on both sides.

            Again, according to Vasiliyev’s staff, the paper says, “over coffee that evening, Putin said that the striving for independence was visible throughout Estonia.” [emphasis supplied]

            On September 18, Savisaar and representatives of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast met in Narva and signed an agreement between the Estonian government and the leadership of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast.  Savisaar then returned to the Estonian capital, and Putin invited his Estonian interlocutor to “continue their acquaintance in Petersburg.”

            Perhaps significantly, Putin did not sign for the Russian side. Instead, the border protocol was signed by a member of the St. Petersburg Council of Peoples Deputies, Aleksandr Belyayev and the chairman of the Leningrad Oblast Soviet, Yury Yarov, both of whom had been involved in the anti-Gorbachev August putsch attempt.

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