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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Raises Heat Of Estonia Conflict

President Boris Yeltsin stepped up pressure against Estonia on Thursday, following his foreign minister with sharp accusations that the Baltic state was conducting "apartheid" against its resident ethnic Russians.


In a statement released Thursday afternoon and carried by Interfax, Yeltsin also warned Estonia that Russia would hold its leaders responsible for any outbreak of ethnic unrest.


"In calling on the Estonian side to review its position in regard to Russians, I wish to warn: All responsibility for possible disturbances of civic peace in Estonia will lie on the Estonian leadership", he said.


Yeltsin was responding to Estonia's adoption Monday of a "Law on Aliens", which Russia has said violates the rights of the Baltic state's non-Estonian population of 600, 000. The law requires non-Estonians to apply for citizenship or a residence permit within two years, or leave the country.


"To all intents and purposes we are talking about the practice of ethnic cleansing and the introduction of an Estonian version of apartheid", he said.


The president's remarks followed a declaration from Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev on Wednesday that Moscow would retaliate against Estonia's adoption of the law with tough economic sanctions.


In his statement Thursday, Yeltsin said that Moscow would take "all necessary measures" to guarantee the rights of ethnic Russians. He did not elaborate.


The two statements raise the conflict between Russia and Estonia to a new level, potentially threatening already negotiated agreements between the two countries.


Despite Estonia's strengthened economic ties with its Scandinavian neighbors, sanctions by Moscow could prove devastating for Estonia which is still dependent on Russia for energy supplies and many raw materials.


Russian newspapers Thursday also denounced the Estonian law, with the liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta accusing Tallinn and Tartu city authorities of already kicking Russian army personnel out of their apartments. The newspaper also said that Estonia was trying to reestablish its 1920 borders, which means laying claims to Russian territory.


Kozyrev repeated the threat of economic sanctions Thursday, saying that the law on aliens amounted "to a demand to deport Russians.


"We must use all means to stop the process of discrimination, including economic means and the pressure of international organizations", he said.


Kozyrev made his comments following a meeting with Max van der Stoel, high commissioner for national minorities of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who is scheduled to hold talks in Tallinn on Friday.


Kozyrev discussed the rights of Estonia's Russian-speaking population with U. S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering during a meeting Thursday, Itar-Tass reported. The news agency said that Kozyrev also met with British Foreign Office official Douglas Hogg, who is visiting Moscow.