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Books on Estonia


Update No: 317 - (30/05/07)

History, famously said Henry Ford, is bunk. Well in Estonia it is an ever-present reality.

A running spat with Russia is having big consequences on the economy, as the first cyberwar in history between states unfolds and Estonian-Russian trade is being disrupted. The mood in Russia is very belligerent at what is seen as a desecration of Soviet war graves no less.

The Balts against the Bear
The Estonians are the most Western people of the FSU, along with the Latvians. The Baltic republic became independent in 1991 and is a member of both Nato and the EU. Protestant very early on, Nordic, indeed almost Scandinavian geographically, sober and hard-working, maritime and with a great civic pride, they could not be more different from the Russians, perceived as Eastern, prone to drink, slovenly and crime-infested denizens of the vast Russian hinterland. They disdain them as gross inferiors and interlopers. 

The greatest indignity was to have to endure Soviet occupation in 1940. The Tsarist occupation was civilised by comparison. Russia denies the Soviet years amounted to an "occupation" of Estonia. This is hogwash. Estonia was occupied by the Nazis in World War II and then ruled by Moscow for five decades. Thousands were deported to Siberia under Stalin. The constant reminder that it was under occupation is the one quarter of their population that are Russian - and the emblems of the same. 

It is hardly surprising that they have long wanted the removal of the latter, the constant proof of their past subjection.

The exhumation and the removal of a statue to Soviet soldiers who fought against Nazis in 1941-1945 triggered violent protests largely among the Russian-speaking population and acts of vandalism in the Estonian capital at the end of April. One person died and 153 were injured in the unrest, and more than 1,000 were arrested. 

Estonia has closed its consulate in Moscow after pro-Kremlin youth groups attacked diplomats in protest at the relocation of the Soviet war memorial. Estonia's foreign ministry said there was an attempt to physically assault their ambassador at a news conference. It said the incident amounted to a violation of diplomatic conventions. 

Estonians of Russian origin rioted after the controversial statue of a Soviet soldier was moved away from the centre of Tallinn. Estonians say the soldier symbolised Soviet occupation; Russians describe it as a tribute to those who fought the Nazis. 

Russia and Estonia in continued spat 
Russia has protested about plans by Estonia to criminalise displays of Soviet symbols. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said it was "blasphemous" to equate the hammer and sickle with Nazi emblems. 

The Estonian government in an assertion of independence has put a bill before parliament calling for fines or jail terms of up to three years for those who display such symbols. War veterans in the large Russian minority in Estonia often wave red Soviet flags when marking Soviet-era anniversaries. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that "recently the Estonian side has been obstinately taking provocative steps aimed at seriously aggravating our relations". He added: "The Estonian authorities are continuing their blasphemous attempts to rewrite the history, bracketing Nazi crimes with the feat of the Soviet people, who made a decisive contribution to the liberation of Europe from fascism." 

Estonia is the predatory victim 
Estonia is not responsible for the lack of constructive dialogue with Russia over the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument from the centre of Tallinn, the Estonian ambassador to Russia said on April 2nd. 

Speaking at a press centre of the popular Russian newspaper Argymenty i Fakty in downtown Moscow, Marina Kaljurand said that: "A constructive dialogue had not taken place as Russia's [State Duma] delegation had made statements before their visit to Estonia which could be considered as interference in Estonian internal affairs." 

She also said that the delegation members, who returned to Moscow on May 2nd, "declined to take part in events planned for them by Estonia," and "the Estonian Foreign Ministry called such behaviour as shameful." 

The start of the press conference was disrupted as several young men charged into the newspaper's building, spraying mace (tear gas) while chanting "Down with fascism!" But Anastasiya Suslova, a spokeswoman for Russia's pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi (Ours), said later that the mace was sprayed by the Estonian Ambassador's guards. 

About 150 activists of Nashi continued a picket of the Estonian embassy in Moscow. Some 20 members of Nashi blocked a highway near the state border with Estonia in the Leningrad Region stopping five Estonian trucks. "We have blocked five Estonian trucks on a highway from the city of Ivangorod, but we are letting other cars pass by," a spokeswoman said adding that the police later dispersed the picket and detained 11 activists. 

Kaljurand said that picketers and protesters were possibly acting with the permission of Russian authorities, and Estonia had information that numerous hackers were conducting attacks on web sources of the Estonian authorities from Russia. The Estonian ambassador also said that Russia had refused to send observers to the exhumation and identification procedure of the 12 soldiers buried near the monument. "We proposed sending an observer to monitor the excavation process, but Russia refused," she said adding that "Estonia's readiness for dialogue is again rejected by Russia." 

The European Commission called on Russian authorities to fulfil their obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. An EC spokeswoman said the commission was concerned about growing tensions around the Estonian Embassy. 

The protesters announced earlier that their rally would last indefinitely or until Estonia apologizes for what it has done to the monument in Tallinn. It in fact seems to be petering out.

Russia has repeatedly drawn the European Union's attention to attempts by Estonia, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and joined NATO and the EU in 2004, to glorify Nazi Germany, including by allowing parades by former Nazi SS fighters. 

The first interstate cyberwar in history
Estonia says Russia is behind hack attacks which all but closed government and business sites across the country.

Its government compares the events to an act of war, says The Wall Street Journal, but, "The Kremlin has denied any Russian government involvement," says the story.

The "cyber-offensive" has been, "linked to a furious diplomatic row between Russia and Estonia" and is believed to be, "the first time that a single state has come under concerted attack by hackers," according to The Telegraph, which continues:

The presidential administration's website was inaccessible for six days late last month while those of most cabinet ministries suffered reduced connection speeds after they too were targeted.

While there has been greater preoccupation in Tallinn with more tangible assaults on Estonian interests, including attacks by pro-Kremlin youths on its Moscow embassy and the disruption of fuel supplies, officials said the cyber-attacks set a worrying precedent.

The attack started on April 27 after Estonia took down a Soviet statue in Tallinn. It had commemorated Red Army soldiers killed in World War II, says the WSJ, going on, "The incident inflamed relations between the two countries. In Moscow, pro-Kremlin youth groups blockaded the Estonian embassy and harassed the Estonian ambassador. Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, was formerly a part of the old Soviet Union."

Estonians say the statue reminds them of 50 years of Soviet occupation. 

A Nato spokesman said the organisation was giving Estonia technical help, says the BBC.
"In the 21st century it's not just about tanks and artillery," it has Nato spokesman James Appathurai saying. "We have sent one of our experts at the request of the Estonian authorities to help them in their defence."

Some of the earliest attacks were linked by Estonia to Russian government computers, "including one in President Vladimir Putin's office," says The Telegraph, but it points out there's been no hard evidence to connect the campaign to the Kremlin.

"This is because the hackers used robots to infiltrate hundreds of thousands of computers around the world without their owners' knowledge," it states. "The infected machines would then have flooded Estonian websites with bogus information in what is known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. It is believed that hackers have infected up to a quarter of the world's computers, making tracing the true culprits almost impossible."

Said The Times Online soon after the cyber attacks began in April, Russia threatened to punish Estonia for the "blasphemous and inhuman" removal of a, "monument to the Red Army."

"The Estonian Government moved the bronze statue of a Soviet soldier in the dead of night after the Baltic state's worst violence since independence more than 15 years ago," says the story, adding, "One man died and 57 were hurt, including 12 police, during six hours of clashes on Thursday night that left the streets littered with glass."

Most Estonian ministry sites are now online again, but some banking and media companies say they're still having problems, say reports.

Russia to cut Estonia fuel transit amid statue row
Deliveries of Russian oil products to Estonia may be disrupted, Russia's state railway operator said on May 2nd against the backdrop of a furious political row with the Baltic state over a World War Two monument. 

Russian state railways said planned maintenance on the railway link could lead to disruption in the delivery of oil products. Russia has in the past been accused of using its energy resources as a political weapon against its neighbours. "We haven't imposed any economic sanctions against Estonia and have no plans to do so. But from May 1, we plan repair works. We therefore plan to change the delivery schedule," said a spokeswoman for Russian state railways. 

Russia supplies fuel oil, diesel and gasoline by rail to Estonia. Most of it is then re-exported to markets in northern Europe from Estonia's Baltic Sea port. 

The European Commission voiced concern and said the EU, of which Estonia is a member, would raise the matter with Russia. "A dispassionate dialogue is recommended in the highly emotional situation with regard to the Soviet war graves in Estonia," the EU presidency said in a statement. 

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip discussed the protests in Moscow by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the EU. "This is a well-coordinated and flagrant intervention with the internal affairs of Estonia," Ansip told parliament. "We have turned to the European Union and we ask them to take immediate action. Attacking one member state means an attack against the entire European Union," he added. 

RZD Halts Exports of Oil Products To Estonia
Russian oil firms rushed on May 2nd to reroute one-quarter of their refined products exports away from ports in Estonia after Russian Railways, or RZD, halted the route amid the political dispute with Tallinn. The political crisis between Russia and Estonia is fast threatening economic relations between the two countries, with Russian calls for sanctions growing louder.

Oil traders said the state railway monopoly was not accepting volumes slated for May shipment and they were looking now at Russian Baltic Sea ports and Ukraine's Black Sea outlets as alternative destinations. Russian coal exporters also said May exports of steam coal via Estonia had been effectively halted due to a shortage of rail wagons after RZD told them they must use their own rail wagons, not RZD's, but it had not been possible to find alternative wagons. Up to 900,000 tons of May exports could be lost as a result, they said. 

"It was bound to happen given the recent political dispute. And there is nothing new in the Russian reaction. Just look at the examples of the neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania," said a trader with a Russian oil major. 

Oil pipeline monopoly, Transneft, blamed lack of pipeline capacity when it stopped oil flows to Latvia's Ventspils in 2003. Last year, Transneft cut supplies to Lithuania, citing a pipeline leak but the move coincided with the sale of the Mazeikiu oil refinery to a Polish firm and not to a Kremlin-backed company. 

Estonian-Russian trade and entrepot trade
Russia ships one-quarter of its refined product exports -- or about 25 million tons of fuel oil, gas oil and gasoline -- via Estonia's ports of Tallinn and Muuga for re-export to world markets. 

RZD denied the move had any political motivation. "We haven't imposed any economic sanctions against Estonia and have no plans to do so. But from May 1, we plan repair works. We therefore plan to change the delivery schedule," a spokeswoman said. 

The export of oil products through Estonia is controlled by Severstaltrans and Gunvor, a Swiss company said to be linked to Gennady Timchenko, co-owner of Bank Rossiya, Kommersant said on May 2nd. 

The head of the National Meat Association, Sergei Yushin, on May 2nd reiterated calls for a boycott of Estonian meat imports, and said such a boycott would help Russian meat producers gain a bigger share of the domestic market. Supermarket chains, including Sedmoi Kontinent and Kopeika, have stopped selling Estonian goods.

Bilateral trade between Russia and Estonia was $2.75 billion from January to November 2006, Kommersant reported, citing Federal Customs Service figures.

As far away as Kamchatka, stores have announced a boycott of Estonian goods, hanging notices that read: "Estonian goods are not sold here," RIA-Novosti reported.

Some experts said, however, that imposing economic sanctions against a small country such as Estonia was an exercise in futility. Dmitry Yanin, head of the Moscow-based International Confederation of Consumer Federations, said that Estonia could switch to other trading partners. "Whether you're talking about Cuba or Georgia, sanctions have never been effective in limiting economic growth," Yanin said. 

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