Auteur: | By Teresa Küchler
Russia has refused to give the Estonian foreign minister an entry visa, sparking a diplomatic row with Talinn and putting relations with Brussels to the test.
The Estonian minister, Urmas Paet, had received an invitation to take part in a trilateral conference between Estonia, Finland and Russia's north western region two weeks ago, and was due to travel to St Petersburg on Thursday (10 November).
The official Russian reason for not issuing the travel document is that diplomatic procedures state a foreign minister from another country cannot come to Russia without an invitation from the Russian foreign ministry or the Russian government.
According to the Estonian daily Postimees, however, the Russian foreign ministry is on the list of organisers of the conference.
Later on Thursday, a spokeswoman from the Russian Embassy said the visa request from the Estonian foreign ministry arrived only two days before the roundtable conference, and therefore the visa "could only have been issued in violation of all Russian regulations concerning the reception of high-ranking foreign officials."
A third explanation arrived when Sergei Iastrjembski, special representative of the president for EU-Russian development said that foreign ministers simply were not expected to attend the round table conference, which had a regional focus.
Reactions from Estonian as well as EU officials were immediate and high-pitched.
"I don't understand what Russia was trying to demonstrate, and I hope this attitude will change," the Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip told Estonian media, adding that the incident would be reported to his colleagues in the European Union
In Brussels reactions were no less vivid.
"By denying Paet an entry visa, Russia acted in an "uncivilized and cheap" way, said Toomas Ilves, Estonian vice-president of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, to wire agency Baltic News Service on Thursday.
Another EU diplomat in Estonia described the Russian behaviour as "scandalous."
With Russian-Estonian relations already tense due to land and sea border disputes, Thursday's event is expected to cause an even deeper rift between the two neighbours.
On top of this, Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip said on Monday (7 November) that Estonia was waiting for Russia to apologize for "the Soviet occupation"of the country, adding that Estonia could demand compensation for damage inflicted during the period.
Foreign minister Paet has recently made controversial statements about Russia's handling of anti-semitism and the treatment of ethnic minorities in Russia.