Russia battles with Balts

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA has asked for a special fact-finding mission to be sent to the Baltic states under the aegis of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), to look at the treatment of the Russian minority there.

In past years, Russia has been on the receiving end of the international criticism, for its suppression of national rights in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - which were annexed by Moscow in 1940, and only regained their independence after last year's coup.

Now, however, Moscow is hoping to turn the tables. There has still been no full agreement on a withdrawal of Russian troops, and the Balts are unhappy at what they see as attempted delaying tactics by Moscow. (Mikhail Gorbachev recently suggested that Russian troops should stay in order to 'stabilise the situation' in the Baltic states.)

But Moscow is already complaining of what one Russian official describes as 'civilised ethnic cleansing' - using the emotive phrase that has become associated with the Serbian killing and deportation of Muslims in Bosnia.

Until last year, Moscow refused to consider the demands of the Baltic states to be members of the CSCE. In November 1990, after protests from Mr Gorbachev, the Balts were not even allowed to have observer status at an important CSCE summit in Paris, where a landmark charter on human rights was signed. Now, however, the new authorities in Moscow are ready to treat the Balts as equal partners in the CSCE. Equally, they want to put a line under what has come before - including Moscow's use of tanks against civilians, in 1991 - and to blame the Balts for all the problems of today.

Britain is among the countries which has been asked by Russia to take part in a CSCE mission to Estonia, which has been the particular focus of Russian grievances because of its new constitution and voting laws.

Russians in Estonia must speak Estonian, must sign an oath of loyalty, and are not allowed dual citizenship: they must choose between Russia and Estonia. Estonian officials argue that they are attempting to redress the balance of the politically inspired Russification of the Baltic states, after the Second World War.

Moscow attempted to dilute the national character of the fiercely pro-independence Baltic states by bringing in large numbers of Russian workers.

Before annexation, 86 per cent of the population of Estonia was Estonian, and 8 per cent Russian; today, Russians are almost 40 per cent. The Russification policy caused huge resentment.