The Mighty Moscow Times blasts the Kremlin's hypocrisy over Estonia with a trutly withering salvo. Are they next on the Kremlin's hit list?
As indignation and anger among ethnic Russians in Estonia has peaked over the last couple weeks, Moscow's rhetoric against Tallinn has been abhorrent. This was made clear Tuesday when a group of Russian lawmakers laid flowers at the foot of the Soviet monument that caused all the fuss.
The memorial to slain World War II soldiers has been the scene of clashes between ethnic Russians and Estonians for years, especially on the Victory Day holiday on May 9, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. From the moment Estonian officials announced a plan to move the monument out of central Tallinn, Russian media, particularly the three state-run national television channels, have referred almost exclusively in their news reports to the "dismantling" of the monument. As viewers turned on their televisions Tuesday to the sight of the lawmakers visiting the monument at its new location, in a Tallinn military cemetery, many must have understood that they had only been given half the truth. They had been told about the removal but not the relocation, it would seem, to stoke public indignation against Estonia's "extreme nationalist" and "blasphemous" attitude. That indignation led to behavior that can only be described as "inhuman" -- a favorite Kremlin word -- by the Russians who participated in the Friday and Saturday riots that killed one man and injured dozens of others.
Put plainly, Moscow's conduct in the whole affair has been glaringly hypocritical. When the Kremlin or City Hall explains why opposition marches in Moscow have been banned, they usually cite concerns over unrest and disorder. When the Estonian government tries to avoid the unrest and disorder that usually spoils May 9, Russian officials describe this as "blasphemy."
At home, members of opposition groups who throw mayonnaise or pies at political figures are branded "extremist." But in Tallinn, members of pro-Kremlin groups who take part in demonstrations where Molotov cocktails are hurled at police officers and shops are looted are being branded "patriotic."
Moscow is regularly accused of refusing to respect the independence of countries that were once under its control. In some cases these accusations, including from Estonia, come across as overblown and a bit paranoid.
But if we apply Moscow's own standards -- and the idea of "sovereign democracy" so beloved by Kremlin political theorists -- to the case of the monument in Tallinn, there is no excuse for the course Russia has taken. Surely the Estonians have the right to decide where to put a monument in their own capital.
When anyone dares to question Russia's official interpretation of past events, they are immediately accused of rewriting history. By playing fast and loose with the facts surrounding the recent clashes in Tallinn, Moscow is attempting to rewrite the present.The MT editorial was followed by a second icy blast from columnist Yulia Latynina of Echo Moskvy radio:
Russia has once more affirmed its status as a great power and bolstered its authority in the world on President Vladimir Putin's watch. Shortly after the State Duma condemned the relocation of a World War II memorial in Tallinn, the valiant defenders of the Bronze Soldier provided us with a textbook example of how to fight injustice.
They looted the Wool & Cotton, Sportland and Hugo Boss stores late last week in the Estonian capital. They looted a wine shop and burned a few cars. One defender of the monument was stabbed to death during the riot. Dozens of people, including police, were injured. A female police officer's leg was broken. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip received a death threat by e-mail.
There's nothing new about Russian attempts to implement policies aimed at restoring the country to greatness.
One recent example was in 2005, when thugs in Poland beat up the children of Russian diplomats and stole their mobile phones. Putin sharply criticized the actions of Polish authorities. A few days later, patriots beat up three Poles -- two diplomats and a journalist -- on the streets of Moscow.
Another case was in September 2006, when Georgia detained four Russian military officers on suspicion of espionage. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili identified the officers as senior members of the General Staff's Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU. The Defense Ministry immediately refuted the insinuation in the Georgian media that the GRU was involved in intelligence gathering. Then again, under Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the GRU may well have been involved in some other activity, such as cactus farming.
Putin responded with a call for measures to protect the rights of native vendors in our markets. After that, Russia declared war -- not against Georgia, but against Georgians living in Russia. The crackdown dealt Georgians a crushing financial blow that benefited the cops, and the deportation process claimed several lives.
Now Estonia is feeling the heat.
It should be noted that Russia reacts to external challenges in a very selective fashion. The Kremlin saw nothing amiss last July when a North Korean missile landed in Russian waters near the Pacific port of Nakhodka.
When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrived in Moscow for a recent official visit, he announced upon landing at the airport that his movement would not recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby rendering senseless Russia's attempt to draw him into the negotiating process. Once again, the Kremlin took the slight in stride.
In other words, Russia never takes offense when a so-called rogue state spits in its face.
There's no point even talking about the official reaction to events here at home. The parliament was unmoved last week when the remains of six Soviet World War II pilots buried at a memorial in Khimki were unearthed by a bulldozer, the gravestones were tossed around, protesters were beaten by police and the remains went missing. No one called for a boycott of goods from Khimki or for the mayor to be declared persona non grata.
Countries that were once part of the Soviet empire -- Poland, Georgia, Estonia -- are another matter entirely. When something happens there, the wrath of Putin, the Russian police and bands of curiously elusive avengers is always ready to rain down on those who forget the words of the old song: "Our armor is strong and our tanks are swift."
And this wrath delivers tangible results. After its diplomats were beaten up, Poland, for example, began talking about allowing the United States to install interceptor missiles on its territory, a move that infuriated the Kremlin. Georgia appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the Kremlin still can't figure out why.
Both of these examples clearly demonstrate how Putin's foreign policy bolsters Russia's prestige and restores its former imperial greatness.