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Cablegate: President Ilves Reaches Out to Russian

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RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTL #1076 3381554
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041554Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY TALLINN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9313
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TALLINN 001076

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM EN
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT ILVES REACHES OUT TO RUSSIAN
ESTONIANS IN IDA-VIRUMAA


1. (U) Summary. In an effort to reach out to Estonia's
Russian-speaking minority, on November 14 Toomas Hendrik
Ilves chose Ida-Virumaa as the destination of his first
domestic trip as President. While there, he encouraged
young ethnic Russians to participate actively in the
political process, and highlighted the growing
importance of Russian/Estonian trade relations. The
trip received significant press coverage, but produced
little editorial reaction. End Summary.

2. (U) Starting with his inaugural address, President
Ilves has made a point of reaching out to Estonia's
ethnic Russian residents. On November 14, Ilves notably
chose Ida-Virumaa, a predominately ethnic Russian county
in northeast Estonia, as the destination of his first
domestic trip as President. Ethnic Russians make up
about 85 percent of the population in Ida Virumaa.
According to polls conducted immediately after the
presidential election in October, "non-Estonians" are
the one demographic group among whom Ilves does not have
significant popular support.

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3. (U) In Narva, Ida-Virumaa's largest town (population
67,000), President Ilves spoke to high school students
at the Narva Humanitarian Gymnasium. He stressed to the
students that they should not feel ashamed that Russian,
not Estonian, is their native language - drawing a
parallel with his own experience speaking Estonian while
living in Sweden, Germany, and the United States.
"Nevertheless," the President continued, "to achieve
success in Estonia, one should learn the official
language." Ilves noted that although ethnic Estonians
are a minority in the region, 73 percent of residents
under the age of 15 are Estonian citizens. The
President called on these young citizens to be
politically active, stating, "Your concerns are not
concerns of the Russian government or the Russian
president, but our concerns. We cannot [make] do
without you." The President stressed that a small
country like Estonia cannot afford to be indifferent
towards any of its people.

4. (U) The growing importance of Estonian-Russian trade
routes also garnered significant attention during Ilves'
trip. County Governor Ago Silde presented Ilves with a
sketch of a proposed new bridge across the Narva River
that would connect Estonia and Russia and facilitate
trade. Ilves also visited Sillamae Port to participate
in a ceremony to mark the construction of a second
mooring for tankers and cargo ships. Sillamae Port, the
most eastern deep-sea port in the EU, was opened in 2005
and is used primarily by ships transporting cargo
between Russia and the rest of Europe. Ilves noted that
the need for a second mooring indicates the growing
interest of Russian companies in Estonian port transit.

5. (U) Public reaction to the trip was generally
positive. Ken Koort, the Ida-Virumaa representative for
the Minister for Population and Ethnic Affairs, noted
the warm welcome the President received. Estonia-wide
Russian language newspapers Molodjezh Estonii and
Postimees gave the trip front page coverage, although
there was very little analysis of the significance of
the trip or comment on the reaction of ethnic Russians.
The local Ida-Virumaa newspaper Pohjarannik wrote, "We
value Ilves' visit to the northeast highly, where he was
able to bring home to all Russian speakers - without
speaking Russian - that he considers all of them his
compatriots...Neither of the previous presidents that
spoke Russian had made the message to ethnic Russians so
clear before."

WOS

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