Estonia president holds first meeting with Putin in years

Moscow (AFP) –


Estonia's president met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin here Thursday for talks on trade and global relations, during the first such Russian visit in eight years.

Kersti Kaljulaid is also the first leader of three ex-Soviet states on the Baltic Sea to hold a high profile meeting with Putin since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

"Neighbours should talk, even if we have certain disagreements," she told the Russian leader, according to translated comments.

"We have not seen each other in a long time," Putin said. "We are happy to see you in Moscow. Welcome!"

"The lack of contact between official people, official state institutions and between neighbours is not a normal situation," he added.

Putin noted that trade between Estonia, a EU-member of just 1.3 million people, and Russia was cut in half owing to freeze.

Kaljulaid agreed that "it is time to renew the partnership programme between the EU and Russia."

"Global geopolitical problems" were another issue she planned to discuss with the Russian leader.

Kaljulaid has attracted criticism at home over her decision to sit down with Putin.

The last visit by an Estonian head of state to Russia was by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who visited Saint Petersburg in 2011 for the second consecration of St. John's Church.

Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been fraught since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.

Estonia joined both the EU and NATO in 2004.

Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine rekindled long-standing fears about aggression in Estonia and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania.

This month Kaljulaid called for US Patriot missiles and troops to be deployed to Estonia, where NATO already has a nearly 1,000-strong battle group led by Britain.

The three Baltic countries, which now have a combined population of just six million people, were occupied and annexed by Moscow during World War II.