It really did look like the story of the Bronze Soldier would die. May 1 was quiet in Tallinn, though the, no doubt, spontaneous pickets in Moscow outside the Estonian embassy continued. There was also a demonstration outside a press centre where the Estonian ambassador was due to hold a press conference, though she was, for a while prevented from leaving the embassy compound.
At one point, while the militia was looking elsewhere, about 25 of the picketers quite spontaneously broke into the building and smashed up a good deal of the furniture.
Now Russia seems to be doing what it does best: bullying. Of course, it might be a coincidence but all of a sudden, the state owned railway company has decided to carry out maintenance on railways leading to Estonia, thus preventing the export of both oil and coal. Well, actually, the coal has been halted because there are not enough wagons, it seems, in the whole of Russia and the Estonians could not find substitute ones immediately.
The sudden cessation of oil exports is likely to have a knock-on effect as much of the produce is then re-exported to northern Europe.
This is sadly reminiscent of Russia’s reaction to what they view as recalcitrant behaviour in other former Soviet republics or, in the case of Poland, just colonies.
The European Union and the holder of the presidency have found themselves drawn into the fray as Estonia is insisting that the EU should make a stand. Russia is, as they say, interfering with the internal affairs of one of the member states.
Chancellor Merkel has expressed her concern and the European Commission will send a delegation to Moscow to discuss the matter. “The dispute,” Reuters says in what must count as a serious understatement, “is likely to cast a cloud over an EU-Russia summit to be held in Russia on May 18.”
The question one cannot help asking is what is Russia hoping to achieve. There has been a good deal of bleating in the western media about this being a newly strengthened, confident Russia displaying its prowess. Confident? A country that pretends to a threat from another one that is about one thousandth its size? A country that can offer nothing to anyone except economic and political bullying or the odd bit of strafing from the air, as in the case of Georgia?
A truly strong, secure and confident Russia would, in my opinion, be a good thing. I have always maintained that the most frightening development could be a continuation of Russian instability and feeling of insecurity. Frightened – whether for good reason or not – Russia becomes a completely unpredictable force. President Putin is working hard to prove to the Russians that there are enemies inside and outside the country who need to be browbeaten (or just beaten up). One wonders where this is all leading. A change in the constitution, perhaps?