This past week, a shocking revelation over a secret agreement signed between Estonian and Soviet security officials concerning the status of KGB operatives has triggered off anger, legal confusion and concern that other such agreements may exist in the dark recesses of a shadowy time in Estonia's recent history.
It is indeed possible that such skeletons in Estonia's closet could pop up again in the future, during times of opportunity for some outside party, particularly when Estonia's own Euro-Atlantic integration makes significant progress. Has Estonia exposed its Achilles' heel to Moscow?
The past exposed
The document showed up during a court hearing for ex-KGB agent Sergei Bouchelovski, who is bidding to stay in Estonia after the Citizenship and Migration Department refused to extend his residence permit. Ex-KGB officials are generally refused extensions on such permits.
However, as part of the defence, attorney Sven Sillar unveiled a foundation-rocking document. Signed in late 1991, it revealed an agreement between Estonia and the Soviet security forces on the status of KGB officials remaining in Estonia. In exchange for files, equipment and arms from the local KGB branch, the document protects against the "harassment" of KGB officials by the Estonian state. Ironically, Sillar is the son of the last Estonian KGB chief, Rein Sillar.
The document, signed by then State Minister Raivo Vare and Soviet security forces envoy Vyacheslav Shironin, also reportedly offers the promise that the rights and freedoms of former KGB officials should not be restricted. Lawyers for Bouchelovski are using this clause in the document, which has not been made available to the public yet, as their main argument to stop Bouchelovski and his family from being expelled from Estonia.
However, the legal and political implications of this revelation are far wider than this single trial, as others in similar situations are standing by in holding patterns until this issue is resolved.
Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus has asked the Security Police to investigate the entire matter, including the government's legal right to have signed the document in 1991 and the disappearance of it from the government chancellery's archives. Loodus focused on the issue of the document's loss, saying that "in some sense" this is "a matter of treason, and the security police must find out whether this case constitutes a crime."
The questionable deal was signed by the transitional government led by current opposition MP Edgar Savisaar. Savisaar is an experienced esoteric deal-pusher, which is quite evident in the current intrigues in various local councils (see last week's Amber Coast for more). In 1995, Savisaar also lost his post as interior minister due to ascandal that linked him to the secret taping of conversations by prominent politicians in the country.
One of the key issues being investigated by the Security Police is the disappearance of the agreement from the archives in Estonia, especially the timeliness of it. The daily Postimees, which broke the story last weekend, reported that the file was palmed before the Savisaar government exited the scene in early 1992 to be replaced by the government of Tiit Vähi.
There are many questions, the most important being the possibility of habitual and repeated action. Could the outgoing Savisaar government have made other vital agreements, of which there is no evidence in the archives, in those times of turmoil? Does Savisaar or a member of his team still have them, and, if so, is the material compromising to current politicians or businesspeople?
Russian daily Izvestiya suggested that the production of the Vare-Shironin agreement by defence attorney Sillar must have been approved by Moscow, since the document had to be sorted out from the archives there. Was this part of Moscow's policy to protect its citizens in a "near abroad" locale or to gain some negotiating leverage against Estonia?
Perhaps there are ties to the oil business, as Raivo Vare is now the CEO of one of the largest oil transshipment companies in Estonia, Pakterminal. Or maybe there was reason for some unknown party to discredit Savisaar, just as Savisaar himself is fighting to take power in local councils as a step towards national power. There are a million questions, spawning a million theories, some plausible, some impossible.
Estonians enjoy a good conspiracy theory. In reality, a culture of distrust of state officials, leftover from the Soviet occupation, is responsible for the lack of trust in government by the general public. Even the 1994 agreements between Presidents Lennart Meri and Boris Yeltsin on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia has been shrouded in secrecy, and, of course, conspiracy theories abound of some sell-out or secret deal cut by Meri.
And remember, Meri was the foreign minister during the Savisaar government. The discovery of such a significant skeleton in Estonia's closet bodes poorly for those wanting to bring back trust in the state.
So now what?
There is little more that can be done until the repercussions of this revelation are felt. A panel of security experts, gathered by Interior Minister Loodus, decided that the document has been invalidated by successive agreements with Moscow and by Estonian legislation. Well-known attorney and Savisaar's justice minister in that government, Jüri Raidla, also said the accord is no longer valid.
However, the issue could be on the table for a long while, as excerpts of the document have been submitted as evidence in a court trial. The issue remains open as long as the Bouchelovski case remains open, and if either side appeals, the legal validity of the agreement is sure to be involved. The legal review is likely to hit the Supreme Court, or, worse, as this is a case concerning a person's residency, it could go as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
This issue will not go away, especially as the Security Police continue the investigation into any possible illegalities in the deal. This is a reminder to all former, current and future government members that the law extends to them as well. If the Security Police do indeed find misdeeds committed by the former government, it could be the political shake-up of the decade. After all, the "T" word, one of the most inflammatory of all terms describing disloyalty to a state, has already been uttered.
Savisaar himself has kept rather silent over the issue, as he realises that such a revelation does little to help him in his bid for power across the country. The revelation reinforces accusations of Savisaar being involved in secretive deals, shady intrigues and perhaps even being in collusion with foreign secret services.
This is one scandal Savisaar will not be able to earn political points from, as anything resulting in a secret deal with the KGB cannot help one's image in any way.
Mel Huang, 6 November 2000
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