Estonia and Russia have signed an agreement clarifying their shared border. The two countries could see improved trade relations.
On February 18th, Estonia and Russia signed a historic agreement outlining their shared border. Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow both signed the agreement. The agreement can be taken as a sign of stability between the two states, although it needs to be ratified by both corresponding parliaments before fully coming into effect.
Since Estonia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the two countries have failed to formalize their geographical border, although several attempts have been made. The issue was close to a solution already in 2005, when the same two foreign ministers signed an almost identical agreement. However, the Russian parliament decided not to ratify the agreement in response to a preamble the Estonian parliament added to their ratification text.
This preamble stated that the agreed border would be slightly east of a border marked out in the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, and was an innocent comment from Estonia’s point of view. However, Russia claimed this preamble could open future territorial claims by Estonia, and was thus unacceptable.
It was not until October 2013 when Estonian Members of Parliament moved to re-launch the discussions. This time we should expect the agreement to pass more or less smoothly in both parliaments. This will be welcome news, as Estonia-Russia relations have gone through several rough patches since 2005, most notably in 2007 with the Bronze statue controversy and in 2013 with the expulsion of an Estonian diplomat from Russia.
In general, the agreement has been met with support, and Sergei Lavrov stated it will “strengthen the atmosphere of trust and cooperation.” Similarly, the U.S. State Department described it as a “positive development” and reiterated the NATO alliance it shares with Estonia. The border agreement is also an important factor for NATO concerns.
Finland warmly welcomed the news, with officials pointing out that maritime borders were also included in the agreement. This means that the official trilateral border between Estonia, Russia, and Finland in the Gulf of Finland can finally be cleared up as well.
On the other hand, editor in chief of Russia in Global Affairs Magazine, Fjodor Lukjanov, believes that the signing of the border treaty will not necessarily improve relations. This is due to the fact that Estonia-Russia relations largely reflect EU-Russia relations, which are currently strained by disputes over Ukraine and visa requirements.
Nevertheless, if the agreement ratifies, Estonia will enjoy at least some benefits. First, it will be freer to conduct its foreign policy vis-à-vis the EU or Russia knowing that no territorial uncertainties will get in the way. Second, in a country with a significant Russian-speaking minority, this agreement also holds symbolic importance that can promote internal stability.
At the same time, a clearer border will help facilitate bilateral trade and serve as a key first step toward future economic agreements. Even just physically marking the border will provide a significant employment and infrastructural boost estimated at 26 million euros.
For now, Estonia is still the only EU member state without a fully defined border with Russia. If this agreement is ratified in both parliaments, the border between the two great neighbors will finally be clarified – at least for the time being.