Predictions are mixed. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Hopefully relations between Estonia and Russia will improve. “Estonia aspires to constructive, pragmatic, neighbourly relations with Russia that are mutually beneficial and respectful.”
Mart Laar, Estonia’s ex-prime minister: The Putin candidate, Dmitri Medvedev has predictably won and upon assuming the presidency will form a Putin-appointed government. “The peaceful transition of power from Putin to Putin has thus been achieved.”
Marko Mihkelson, chair of the EU committee and member of the foreign affairs committees in Estonia’s parliament: The course of Russian foreign policy, including relations with Estonia, does not depend in the slightest on Medvedev. “Even if he wished to change the course slightly, the powers that brought him to the presidency will not let him.” Mihkelson indicated that it’s pointless to speculate about Medvedev’s liberalism since he helped Putin mold Russia into what it is today.
Mart Helme, Estonia’s former ambassador to Russia: “The pseudoelections celebrate the restoration of a Soviet Russia.” Due to the deterioration of its infrastructure in a dozen years “Russia cannot be a military threat to anybody including Estonia”. Realizing this, Russia will use the most brutal methods to assert itself – rough diplomacy and clandestine services.
Urmas Paet, Estonia’s foreign minister: “Estonia continues to be ready for a constructive dialogue with Russia. The new president assuming power creates an opportunity for this.”
Medvedev garnered 70.28% of the vote; 86% in Estonia (from Russian citizens living in Estonia). Communist Gennadi Zjuganov – 17.72%; 9.91% in Estonia. Ultranationalist Vladimir Žirinovski – 9.34%; 2.9% in Estonia.
Officials said that nearly 70% of qualified electors voted overall. According to the Russian Embassy in Estonia, 26,629 Russian voters participated in Estonia out of a possible 110,000 qualified voters – a much smaller percent than in Russia. In comparison, during the Russian State Duma elections in late 2007, 24,000 voters in Estonia participated, voting overwhelmingly for Putin’s party. Nine polling stations were available for Russian voters in Estonia.
Many international organizations refused to send observers to monitor the fairness of the campaign and electoral process. The Kremlin had some possible opposition candidates removed from running using trumped-up charges or technical violations as justification. With the absence of campaign intrigues (the Kremlin simply eliminated any possibility), the lack of a presidential campaign, the avoidance of open debate, and the predictability of the outcome, commentators have noted that these elections did not vary much from those of the Soviet era.
To skeptics, the hallmarks of Putin's era were the deterioration of civil liberties, the centralization of power, the physical elimination of Kremlin enemies and the stifling of any credible opposition. Medvedev’s ability or willingness to reform processes that have gained a momentum of their own or to rule independently of Putin is doubtful. ‘Prior to the elections Medvedev vowed that there will be just one centre of power. It begs the question “Whose centre?”
Can Estonia expect warm or cold winds blowing from the Kremlin with a new czar? (6)