Relations with Russia
Estonia's ties with Boris N. Yeltsin had weakened since the Russian leader's show of solidarity with the Baltic states in January 1991. Issues surrounding Russian troop withdrawals from the Baltic republics and Estonia's denial of automatic citizenship to noncitizens ranked high on the list of points of contention. Immediately after independence, Estonia began pressing the Soviet Union, and later Russia, for a speedy withdrawal of Soviet troops from its territory. Estonia insisted that the process be completed by the end of the year. The Soviet government, citing a lack of available housing for its troops, said not before 1994. In January 1992, some 25,000 troops were reported left in Estonia, the smallest contingent in the Baltic states. Still, more than 80,000 hectares of land, including an inland artillery range, remained in the Russian military's hands. More than 150 battle tanks, 300 armored vehicles, and 163 battle aircraft also remained. The last troops did not leave until August 1994.
In the fall of 1991, as Estonia laid down its new citizenship policy, the Soviet Union called the move a violation of human rights. Under the citizenship policy, most of the country's large ethnic Russian minority were declared noncitizens. The Soviet government linked the further withdrawal of troops from Estonia to a satisfactory change in Estonia's citizenship stance. In response, Estonia denied the human rights charges and invited more than a dozen international fact-finding groups to visit the country for verification. As the propaganda war and negotiations dragged on, Estonia and the other two Baltic countries gained international support for their position on troop withdrawal at a July 1992 summit of the CSCE in Helsinki. The final communiqué called on Russia to act "without delay . . . for the early, orderly and complete withdrawal" of foreign troops from the Baltic states. Resolutions also were passed in the United States Senate in 1992 and 1993 linking the issue of troop withdrawals to continued United States aid to Russia.
Yet, Estonian and Russian negotiators remained deadlocked throughout 1993. At several points, President Yeltsin and other Russian officials called an official halt to the pullout, but the unofficial withdrawal of forces continued. By the end of 1992, about 16,000 troops remained. A year later, that number was down to fewer than 3,500, and more than half of the army outposts had been turned over to Estonian defense officials. The Estonian and Russian sides continued to disagree, primarily over the pace of Russia's withdrawal from the town of Paldiski, on the northern coast some thirty-five kilometers west of Tallinn. The Soviet navy had built a submarine base there that included two nuclear submarine training reactors. Russian officials maintained that dismantling the reactor facility would take time; Estonia demanded faster action along with international supervision of the process. The last Russian warship, carrying ten T-72 tanks, departed in August 1994. However, Russia was to retain control of the reactor facility in Paldiski until September 1995.
Territorial issues also clouded Estonian-Russian relations. Estonia continued to stick by its demand for the return of more than 2,000 square kilometers of territory annexed to Russia by Stalin in 1945. 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.
Although the ultimate goal of ensuring protection against an outside attack appeared remote, Estonia was hard at work building up a defense force in the mid-1990s, with plenty of outside help. The most dramatic step the country took was the appointment in May 1993 of Aleksander Einseln, a retired United States Army colonel and émigré Estonian, to command Estonia's fledgling armed forces. The decision drew strong objections from the United States Department of State, which feared upsetting Russia by allowing former United States military personnel to serve in high posts in the former Soviet Union. The United States threatened to revoke Einseln's military pension and even his citizenship. Support for the new Estonian general from several United States senators, however, helped ease the controversy.
Data as of January 1995