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US Department of State
Estonian-Russian Relations
Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview With Neeme Raud, Estonian TV
Washington, DC
May 3, 2007

Estonian TV: We have seen some of the statements from the United States over the past few days regarding events that transpired after the Bronze Soldier was relocated. What is the U.S. opinion today?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Estonia has had a rough week, but you should not feel alone, you are not alone. The United States, the European Union, even NATO through the Secretary General has come out with expressions of support for your country. And we're obviously troubled by what has happened.

The monument is a complicated issue. To some it's liberation of Europe by the Soviet Army; for others it's Stalin's conquest of Estonia, a conquest the United States never recognized. But it's an emotional issue and we understand that.

Still, threats, intimidation, pressure on your embassy in Moscow, are really unacceptable and we hope that ends. I think President Ilves was right. The way forward is dialogue, outreach, including to the Russian community in Estonia, a responsible, cool heads should lead this, not hotheads. The world has enough of those. So Estonia should not feel alone. Estonia should feel supported, especially as it does the right thing.

Estonian TV: I saw yesterday the United States put out a statement supporting Estonia, so there has been really noticeable support.

Assistant Secretary Fried: That's right. We did not want Estonia to feel alone.

Now it's true that the historical issues are complicated and the Russians in Estonia, the Russian community, has strong feelings. I hope the Estonian government can reach out to them because they're your fellow citizens. They're citizens of Estonia, most of them, and those that aren't are residents. But it's the pressure on Estonia which is so troubling. I hope that Russia and Estonia will be able to work past this. I certainly think Estonia is ready and I'm heartened that today there was no bad news from Moscow.

Estonian TV: So that's what's happening in Moscow is I think the most troubling for many people this week. The Russian government really hasn't taken any noticeable steps to protect the Estonian embassy from those riots around its compound there.

Assistant Secretary Fried: It is perfectly legitimate for people to demonstrate and if people in Moscow were demonstrating, well, that's part of democracy. But diplomatic establishments have to be protected. There are certain rules. And there shouldn't be an intimidation factor.

So protests are legitimate. We're used to that. People protest at American embassies the world over. That's normal. What's not normal is the pressure against your ambassador and against your mission which was simply inconsistent with Russia's obligations.

Estonian TV: I have this quote from the New York Times, from Saturday's New York Times. "As with American plans to base missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Mr. Putin sharply denounced on Thursday and again today, the fate of the monument has become a proxy for broader grievances with the United States and N.A.T.O. generally." Do you agree with that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think it's a mistake to always lump all issues into one pot. A lot of Russians have strong feelings about the monument. I understand that they see this in a very different way.

Look, whatever we think of Stalin's illegal occupation of the Baltic states, and no matter how glad we are that Estonia recovered its independence, many Russians see the Soviet Army victory over Hitler as a victory over Fascism. We understand those feelings. The history is complicated. But that's no reason to put pressure on Estonia. Estonia is an independent country and that's what this is about. It's about being able to work together calmly, to build a better European future, while working through the differences of history.

Estonian TV: What about this notion that this whole campaign in Russia is part of a kind of broader displeasure with the actions of the West and among other things the actions of the United States on missile defense plans?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I don't think there's a connection. Russia has sometimes been unhappy with Estonia before, before there was a missile defense. I think if there's any connection to broader issues it's that Russia is still working through the fact that Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania are genuinely independent nations, that you found your own way in the world. But I think with time, and as Russia grows more confident and develops stronger relations with Europe and the United States as I hope it will, these issues will fade. At least I hope so.

Estonian TV: You've been dealing with the missile defense issues late a lot, and going up to the Hill today to testify on those issues. Russia has been very very critical, and I just read a statement by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, this week that the European Union thinks that the U.S. has been very forthcoming and open with Russia, telling what the system's about. Why this dispute? Why do you think this issue has arisen so sharply?

Assistant Secretary Fried: You'll have to ask the Russians, but Angela Merkel is quite right. We have offered missile defense cooperation with Russia. I was with Secretary Gates last week in Moscow where we reaffirmed our offer, and we're serious. Our missile defense plans aren't directed against Russia. No way. They're directed against threats that may arise in the Middle East, particularly Iran. So it's reasonable that we would want to work with Russia. Certainly and in no way against Russia.

I think as Europeans understand that they will support our plans more and more. At least I hope so.

Estonian TV: The system itself is pretty limited.

Assistant Secretary Fried: It's very limited.

Estonian TV: Many people think there is so much noise around the system and the plans, it seems like it's something very huge, but when you read the facts, it's not so big.

Assistant Secretary Fried: It's a very limited system, you're absolutely right. If it were a thousand missiles, the Russians would say it's directed against us. Maybe if we had 150 missiles the Russians would say the same. But this is only ten unarmed missiles. They don't have a warhead. Only ten. Which means they're useless against the Russia missile arsenal, but they might be useful against a much smaller arsenal such as that the Iranians could field.

The fact is alliance security should be indivisible. There should be no second class alliance members. And if Europe is vulnerable to Iranian missiles that means we're insecure as well. We have to be in this together.

Estonian TV: But in whose interest is all this noise then from Russia? Why is Russia criticizing when it's very logical that this is not a threat?

Assistant Secretary Fried: You'll have to ask the Russians, but it does remind me a little bit of the Russians in the 1980s when they made these political arguments trying to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe.

I hope that as the Russians understand that we're serious about cooperation, that we want to work with them, that they will change their views. I'm also very heartened that Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, now in the presidency of the European Union, has understood this more and more. I appreciate that very much.

Estonian TV: Finally, a couple of years ago we still had this talk about the kind of rift between the U.S. and the European Union. Now it's merging so fast and the relationship is getting better and better as we saw this week in Washington. But can we say that the relationship between Russia and the European Union and the U.S. is at a new low, as some commentators have described it?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I hope our relations with Russia grow and develop. It's certainly the case that the European Union spoke strongly in support of Estonia, and I'm glad they did. There's good American-European solidarity in support of your country. But there's a European-American agreement that we want to work with Russia. It doesn't do Estonia any good to have the EU and the U.S. quarreling with Russia. We want to work with Russia. We do face common threats. We want to get past the arguments of the Cold War and the 20th Century and work together to deal with problems of the 21st Century. I think Estonia will be part of that.

Estonian TV: But the arguments of the Cold War keep coming back somehow.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, it is hard to get over the past, but we need to focus on the future, and one of the things I find most encouraging about Estonia is how much of a success you have made with reform, with modernity, with your place in Europe, and how confident your nation is becoming as you really do make a success out of your freedom. It's wonderful to see.

I was first in Estonia in the Soviet era, and I remember it then; I see it now, and I think what a wonderful example of how freedom and pride can help a people do great things.

Estonian TV: Thank you so much.

Assistant Secretary Fried: It's my pleasure.