TARTU, ESTONIA—Just months after meeting in an Internet chat room, the nations of Suriname and Estonia have entered a state of open hostility, U.N. sources reported Tuesday.
"In early January, Surinamese president Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan logged onto a small-nations chat room on Yahoo! and came across Estonian president Arnold Ruutel," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "The two exchanged messages and, before long, became Internet friends, bonding over their shared experiences as leaders of tiny republics."
Despite their vast cultural differences and geographical distance, the Surinamese and Estonian leaders forged a strong alliance, granting each other most-favored-nation status and signing numerous trade pacts.
Relations slowly turned sour, however, as a series of misunderstandings and perceived snubs caused the friendship to deteriorate into enmity. Just before dawn Monday, Estonia commenced bombing raids along Suriname's coastal region, targeting a military complex near the capital city of Paramaribo. The attack was in response to Suriname troop buildup in Latvia and a thwarted attempt to cross the Estonian border at Valga last Friday.
Estonia's angry e-mails to Suriname demanding a pullout of the Baltic region by 11:59 p.m. Sunday were repeatedly bounced back as "undeliverable due to fatal address error."
"U.N. negotiators are continuing their attempts to broker peace, but so far the process has been marred by the leaders' steadfast refusal to communicate," Annan said. "Both have removed their entries from the Yahoo! member directory for Presidents Of Small Nations. There is also reason to believe they are logging onto their favorite world-politics chat rooms with alternate user names to avoid coming into contact with each other."
Venetiaan recalled the leaders' first chat-room encounter.
"I didn't know I'd one day live to regret meeting that lousy ex-Commie," said Venetiaan, who logged on using his secondary e-mail account, firstname.lastname@example.org. "Estonia looked like an interesting country, so, being the leader of a country myself, I typed in a message saying, 'hello out there.. whatsup in etsonia?'"
Less than 30 seconds later, Venetiaan received a response.
"It was from Estonia, saying, 'the inflations terrible!!! How bout where you are?' I wrote back, 'inflations pretty bad here too but at least it's 80 degrees and sunny!!! ;)' He replied, 'i'm sooo jealous—it's freezing here! by the way I'm wracking my brains trying to think of new economic measures to strengthen estonia's manufacturing base. if youve got any suggestions, feel free send them my way!'"
Stressing that he usually does not e-mail countries he doesn't even know, Venetiaan sent Ruutel a full page of economic-stimulus ideas, appended with the qualifier, "not that i know anything! my country's got 21.7% unemployment! :("
Upon receiving Venetiaan's e-mail, Ruutel sent him an instant message about a monetary-unit conversion-program download he had seen.
"We ended up chatting for almost an hour," Ruutel said. "Nothing important, just, 'What's your main export? I have this much arable land, how about you?' That sort of thing."
According to Venetiaan, the two countries had a surprising amount in common.
"Suriname was granted independence from the Netherlands in 1975 after riots broke out," Venetiaan said. "Estonia had a lot of the same problems when they declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. It was weird: Even though, on the surface, we seemed totally different, we'd been through a lot of the same things."
Said Ruutel, "We added each other to our MSN Messenger Friends lists and started forwarding each other funny internal memos. Arnold sent me an MP3 from his brother's kesco band, a traditional form of Surinamese music. Then I sent him a PayPal payment for just two kroon and said I was donating my budget surplus. We had a good laugh over that one."
Two months after first meeting on the Internet, Venetiaan and Ruutel finally met face-to-face.
"When I told Arnold I was going to be on vacation in South America, he arranged a dinner in my honor," Venetiaan said. "It was a little awkward at first, because we didn't really have any official state business, but we ended up having a great time. We arranged to build an Estonian embassy in Paramaribo and signed a bunch of tariff and trade agreements."
In addition to the economic pacts, Suriname pledged non-military support for Estonia in disputes with Russia. In return, Estonia agreed to back Suriname's claim on an area in French Guiana between Riviere Litani and Riviere Marouini.
Trouble began several weeks later, however, when a sudden jump in the value of oil shale and a sluggish international textile market prompted Ruutel to call for renegotiations.
"All of a sudden, Arnold says he wants to pull out of our bauxite agreement," Venetiaan said. "Then he's mad I took my raw aluminum to Finland for a deal on heavy machinery imports. I e-mailed and e-mailed, trying to clear up the whole mess, but there was no reply."
Feeling snubbed, Venetiaan sent Ruutel an antagonistic e-mail informing him that Suriname planned to establish formal relations with Russia.
Ruutel replied with an angry six-page e-mail blasting Suriname's decision to form an alliance with Estonia's unfriendly neighbor. When Venetiaan responded by sending a Golden Girls "I'm Sorry" Lifetime Network e-card, Ruutel placed his country on full military alert. Though Venetiaan later insisted the card was "just a joke," the damage was done.
"At that point, I didn't want to deal with him anymore, diplomatically or personally," Ruutel said. "I sent a formal declaration of war and CCed all of my top generals. The subject line was 're: bomb Corantijn river region sky-high.'"
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar characterized the breakdown in international relations as "nothing to mourn."
"I never really liked that Ron," Laar said. "He always seemed kind of creepy to me. I think Estonia is better off without Suriname."
Venetiaan is similarly unfazed.
"I don't know why Estonia had to get all weird on me," Venetiaan said. "Whatever. Their loss, that's for sure."