It's unfortunately not that common for Western leaders to directly take issue with President Putin when he starts to accuse the Baltic nations of numerous things.
But when visiting Finland for an otherwise friendly and apparently good visit, he had to face the firm views of Finnish President Tarja Halonen on the subject.
Putin urged Finland - scheduled to become the EU's presiding country in the second half of 2006 - to work with Russia in order to "resolve the problems" of Russians in Estonia and Latvia.
Zeroing in on the issue of citizenship, Putin alleged that the legal category of "non-citizen" is unique to Estonia and Latvia. Terming this situation "absolutely impermissible," Putin accused Estonia and Latvia of withholding citizenship and otherwise restricting the rights of those people "on ethnic grounds." "Ethnic discrimination is unacceptable," he warned.
On this occasion again, Putin tried to portray the Baltic states as breaching European criteria for democracy and rule of law, and he asked the EU to help Russia correct this situation.
In her response, Tarja Halonen firmly made three basic points.
First, Estonia's and Latvia's legislation and practice "correspond with the criteria for EU membership," as well as "meeting the requirements of the Council of Europe and the OSCE," on citizenship and related issues. Moreover, "It is normal for any state to set certain requirements and conditions for granting citizenship."
Second, minority-related issues "exist everywhere in the EU, and are resolved within the EU, as well as in cooperation with the UN and OSCE. " This point clearly intends to prevent singularization of the Baltic states by Russia and to preclude intrusion into EU political processes by non-member Russia.
Thirdly, the policies of Estonia and Latvia are "doing their best … actively encouraging the non-citizens to take up citizenship," Halonen noted, citing the ongoing increase in the number of citizens.
Good. Russians in Estonia and Latvia certainly have more of democray and freedom and protection for their human rights than have Russians in Russia.