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Saatse Strip (boot)
Russia-Estonia Border Dispute

Saatse strip (boot) Territorial issues cloud Estonian-Russian relations. On August 23, 1944 - the fifth anniversary of its secret pact with Hitler, incidentally - the Soviets annexed 2,600 square kilometers of Estonian territory. The borderline currently guarded is exactly how it was at the end of the Soviet era. The control line currently guarded, between Republic of Estonia and Russian federation, does not differ from the administrative border between Estonian SSR and Russian SFSR in force on August 20th 1991.

Estonia continued to stick by its demand for the return of more than 2,000 square kilometers of territory annexed to Russia by Stalin. The annexed land was within the borders Estonia and Russia had originally agreed to as part of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty. However, the Yeltsin government disavowed any responsibility for acts committed by the Soviet regime.

The Estonian-Russian state border and sea boundaries treaty, signed on May 18th 2005, in Moscow, prescribed the borderline in details. The treaties with maps have been published in Riigi Teataja (State Gazette). The treaty was not ratified by Russia; this, however, did not mean that the borderline should be discussed anew. Had the 2005 treaty entered into force, it would, among other things, have meant that Estonia and Russia exchange a certain amount of plots at the edge of Põlva and Võru Counties.

The most significant change would have meant the so-called Saatse strip (boot) in Põlva County, where a ca 1 km section of Estonian Saatse-Värska road is located on Russian territory, which needs to be passed by vehicles without any stops. According to the new Estonian-Russian border treaty, the boot will be straightened out and the border oddity will disappear. Area of the boot will be transferred to Estonia in exchange for two patches of land in Värska and Meremäe Parishes. As the 2005 treaty never entered into force, the agreed changes were not performed.

On 24 April 2012 a document making changes to the 2002 agreement regulating Estonia-Russia border points was signed. On 7 October 2012 the Riigikogu foreign affairs committee together with representatives of all Riigikogu fractions made a proposal to the government to begin consultations with Russia in order to conclude a border treaty that satisfied both sides. During a discussion in Luxembourg on 14 October 2012 between Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, both sides agreed to carry out consultations with the goal of finding an opportunity to bring the border treaty into force. Three rounds of consultations took place: on 31 October 2012 in Moscow, 18 December 2012 in Tallinn, and 8 May 2013 in Moscow.

Tõnu Raid is a well known cartography specialist, formerly participating in Estonian-Russian border talks. Parliament (Riigikogu) member Juku-Kalle Raid (son of Tõnu Raid) claimed, in his question proposed to Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 24 April 2013: «Regrettably, Estonia has handed over, to Russia, a part of the Narva reservoir and almost 1,000 kilometres of sea in Narva Bay. When and where has the political decision been taken, in Estonia, regarding such concessions of territory?» asked the Parliament member belonging to the IRL fraction. The ESSR-RSFSR borderline ran along the Narva River shipping line until 1950, when the Narva reservoir was created. Now, however, they want to draw an arbitrary line between Republic of Estonia and Russian Federation, irrespective of the shipping line.

Foreign minister Urmas Paet replied that the agreed border does indeed run along that very shipping line in Narva River and Narva reservoir. The exact location of the shipping line will be determined by a joint Estonian-Russian border committee, which will set to work after the treaties enter into force. According to Paet, Estonia had not and will not make changes in the borderline as compared to the border treaty agreed in 2005 and ratified in Riigikogu. Paet said it was incorrect to claim that Estonia had conceded about a thousand of square kilometres of sea territory, as, prior to 2005, Estonia and Russia had never agreed upon sea boundaries.

The updated treaties were signed by the Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on 18 February 2014 in Moscow. Estonia's government gave its approval on 06 March 2014. The parliaments of both countries will have to ratify the treaties. Pursuant to § 122 of the Estonian Constitution, a two-thirds majority is required in the Riigikogu (Parliament) to ratify treaties. After the ratification, ratification letters will be exchanged. The state treaties would enter into force 30 days after the ratification letters have been exchanged.

Despite a dip in relations, by April 2014 Estonian parliamentary forces were still planning to ratify the Estonian-Russian border treaty soon. Imre Sooäär, a Reform Party MP, said the first reading of the bill is likely to take place before the summer break. Center Party MP Enn Eesmaa said the border treaty and the events in Ukraine events should be kept separate, while Karel Rüütli of the Social Democrats said the aim of a legal border has been the long-term goal of his party, adding that its ratification is in Estonia's interests.

The biggest political opposition to the treaty has come from outside Parliament, from the Conservative People's Party. Its top candidate at the European Parliament elections, Martin Helme, said Estonia had been demanding that other European nations take tough stands against Russia, but was unwilling to act itself. IRL had shown mixed feelings, initially lending its backing to the ratification, but a few party MP's such as Juku-Kalle Raid, and the now former minister Helir-Valdor Seeder have spoken out against the treaty. Andres Herkel, who left the party in 2013 to fund his own political force, also criticized the plan.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2016 17:44:37 ZULU