Out of Russia: Uneasy Balts dig up their weapons again

MOSCOW - Once the vanguard of the second Russian revolution, the Baltic states faded rapidly from the front pages at the beginning of the year, their violent struggles for independence replaced with ethnic clashes in Georgia and Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new contest was between Russia and Ukraine, or Kazakhstan. So populous and potentially rich were these other countries by comparison that it seemed possible that the Balts might not be heard of for some time.

Not so. In recent days, the Estonians have made quite a splash. Members of a group called the Forest Brethren, descendants of rural guerrillas who fought against the annexation of Estonia in 1940, have returned to the woods. They are digging up caches of weapons hidden for 50 years and ambushing the former occupation troops who are now part of the Russian army.

According to witnesses, members of the Brethren lurk in the trees like other partisans of old. From a forest hideout one group of Brethren pounced on a Russian convoy, opened fire and seized three officers and three soldiers, later releasing them.

Before that, a thousand people from the Estonian Green Movement forced their way on to a Russian naval base and held a rally demanding the closure of the base. This week, Estonian border guards seized a Russian ship that was removing buoys close to the shore in Estonia's Parnu Bay. The Estonians claimed the Russian ship had not 'co-ordinated' its actions with the Tallinn government, endangering other ships. But they let it go.

Moscow is very upset, naturally. The Russian high command has complained bitterly about the harassment of its troops in the Baltics and, in Estonia specifically, of the actions of 'armed bandits' against its troops and the seizure of its ship. Russia still has 20,000 troops left in Estonia, which has a population of 1.5 million - and has another 110,000 in Lithuania and Latvia. All three Baltic states fear that their hard-won independence might be threatened again if hardliners regain power in Moscow.

The three Baltic governments are organising international pressure on Moscow to speed up withdrawal of its troops, and local militants meanwhile are having a field day harassing the soldiers.

The rise of the Brethren comes at the same time as stern new Estonian laws depriving the 500,000 ethnic Russians of the vote, making them into second-class citizens. Citizenship laws give full rights only to direct descendants of people who lived there before 1940. One Estonian law would require non- citizens to have different-coloured number plates for their cars - like Arabs in Israel's occupied territories.

The Russians accuse the Estonians of violating a treaty between the two states drawn up in January last year that permitted Russians to take part in local elections. The Russian Foreign Ministry accuses the Estonian government of 'creating an atmosphere which opens the way to intolerance, aggressive nationalism and xenophobia. . .'

Talks between the two sides, now in the fifth round, make painful progress. Russia says it cannot withdraw its troops by the end of the year because it has no housing for them at home - a fact that everyone accepts as true. But the Balts have run out of patience. In a new twist, Russia has accused Estonia of trying to grab land by invoking an old 1920 treaty. Partly in retaliation, Russia is putting up customs posts on the main routes into Estonia.

The Estonian constitution says the borders were established by the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 which puts sizeable tracts of land in the Leningrad and Pskov regions into Estonia. The Russians no longer recognise that treaty and have set up four customs posts on the Estonian side of the 1920 line.

A Russian official said reassuringly: 'We do not pursue the aim of erecting a wall.' The Estonians feel they know otherwise, of course.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory