Expert: Putin meeting was viewed in Estonia like conquering of Everest

President Kersti Kaljulaid’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last spring was viewed in Estonia like the conquering of Mount Everest — an achievement to be applauded. But relations with Putin should be well-founded, foreign policy expert Kadri Liik said in an appearance on ETV’s “Esimene stuudio” on Thursday night.

Liik acknowledged that Putin raising the issue of recent history is interesting. “He did so in a way that was shocking,” she said. “To blame Poland for the outbreak of World War II is just too much.”

According to the expert, Putin wants to celebrate the conclusion of World War II, and invite world leaders to Moscow. “But if he wants to extend his hand while also ignoring Ukraine, then such statements make going to Moscow difficult, for [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel,” she continued. “Merkel is still considering where to even start with this unfortunate situation, as are other world leaders.”

This could be the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi all over again, she said, where Putin likewise hoped that Western leaders would attend, but prior to the Games, he passed anti-adoption and other discriminatory laws. “After that, Western leaders of course couldn’t attend the Olympics,” she said. “I don’t understand why he does this. Apparently he has strong feelings on these issues, but this isn’t politically reasonable.”

Asked whether President Kersti Kaljulaid should go to Moscow on May 9, which is celebrated in Russia as Victory Day, Liik responded that she didn’t know.

“Let’s first wait and see whether she receives an invitation first,” the expert said. “I’m not certain of that either. Then let’s see where things stand by then — who’s going, who isn’t going, and what this issue and narrative have shaped up to be at that point.”

Liik believes Putin has considered attending the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples in Tartu this summer, to which he was invited by Kaljulaid, but added that it is difficult to say whether or not he’d come.

“What has bothered me about this invitation is that I don’t understand why we are doing this, and what we hope to achieve,” she said. “I’m not saying that it would be wrong, but I’d like to understand what our goal is. The president’s visit to Moscow [last spring] as well — I believe this was viewed differently in Estonia than it was elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere, people saw Estonia took this interesting step and thought, where are you going from here? But in Estonia, meeting Putin was viewed like the conquering of Mount Everest.

After that, she continued, one doesn’t ask someone where they will go from here, but rather they expect champagne, applause and flowers.

“It was like something major in its own right, that we are communicating with Putin,” Liik said. “I’m not sure we are considering why we are doing this and where we want to end up. That is what bothers me. In relations with Russia, it should be clear what you are doing and why.”

She is not saying that Estonia shouldn’t communicate, however. “There are several opportunities for doing so,” she continued. “Maybe we want to maintain relations with our neighbors, so that life would be safer. It’d be good if we had a phone to call at the Kremlin. I’d approve. Maybe we want to help with Russian and European policy, and we are seeing Putin in that light. I’d like to know what it is that we’re doing.”

Regarding news agency Sputnik, Liik believes that Estonia went overboard in interpreting sanctions, as subject to sanctions is Rossiya Segodnya director Dmitry Kiselyov as a private individual. Sputnik is a subsidiary of Rossiya Segodnya.

“Of course Sputnik isn’t a good thing, but we’ve given them a vital boost — we’ve given them a raison d’etre,” she warned. “Russia sees discrimination against this media outlet. It’s not worth us fighting such battles, at least not alone. If we punish Sputnik, then they will target some real journalist of ours, and the damage will be greater.”

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