Estonia backs Chechens

Estonia's difficult relations with Russia grew even more tense yesterday after Moscow denounced Estonia's parliament for expressing sorrow at the reported death of a Chechen guerrilla commander. The commander, Salman Raduyev, organised a hostage-taking raid last January on the southern Russian town of Kizlyar and is said to have died in this week's clashes in Chechnya.

More than 60 of Estonia's 101 members of parliament sent a message of condolence to the Chechen leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, whose fight for independence is viewed with sympathy in Estonia. Mr Dudayev once commanded a Soviet air base in Estonia and won popularity for refusing to crack down on Estonia's drive for independence from the Soviet Union.

Reacting to the message, the Russian foreign ministry said: "This unprecedented cynical action underlines once again the real aspirations of Estonian nationalists, who did not miss a chance to demonstrate their hatred of Russia. It looks as if Tallinn has deliberately chosen the path of supporting terrorism."

Among the main issues clouding relations between Estonia and Moscow are a border dispute and Russia's contention that the authorities in Tallinn discriminate against the large ethnic Russian minority in Estonia.

Western governments are concerned at the frosty atmosphere in Estonian- Russian relations as they have strongly supported the independence of Estonia and the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania. The West has held back from offering security guarantees to the Baltic states, a factor that complicates their hopes of joining the European Union.

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