Eesti Elu
Kremlin: don’t waste vote on Russian parties in the Baltics
Arvamus 19 Nov 2010  Eesti Elu
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Boriss Sokolov. a prominent Russian historian, recently claimed that Moscow has started to abandon support for Soviet-oriented, rabidly Moscow-friendly Russian parties in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Kremlin is now urging Russian voters to back main stream Estonian-based parties, who hold a Moscow-friendly stance, but are western-oriented and don’t espouse the return of the USSR.

For Estonia, this spells the Centre party. In essence, Sokolov`s observations are not new. Several times in the past Russian politicians openly instructed the Russian electorate in Estonia not to waste their vote on marginal local Russian parties, who have no chance of gaining seats in parliament, but to rather vote for the Centre Party who will represent their `ethno-specific` interests anyway.

These interests include giving the Russian language official state status, granting citizenship to pratically all residents etc.

Sokolov is an active member of the political opposition to Putin, who was forced to leave his professorship at a state university in 2008 for publicly denying the official version of Russia`s invasion of Georgia. ``In Estonia the obvious choice would be Tallinn`s mayor Edgar Savisaar`s Centre Party, Nil Ushakov`s Centre of Accord in Latvia, and until recentlyVictor Usdpaskis`Labour Party in Lithuania,`` says Sokolov. He added that ”It’s not a coincidence that the mayors of the capitals of Latvia and Estonia are politicians, who are, by local standards, considered to be Russian-oriented”.

Sokolov notes that the new approach is expected to usher in more “civilized” relations between the Baltic states and Russia, but Moscow must also be wary of the danger, that in attempting to gain even wider acceptance these parties might want to distance themselves from Russia.

Analyst Paul Goble remarked that by cutting back its support for openly pro-Russian parties, Moscow might be losing the support of pro-Russian politicians and voters, but is gaining influence, sometimes unnoticed, on the real political process in the Baltic countries.

The director of the Batic Research Centre in Russia, Vladimir Juskin, says that Sokolov’s analysis is correct, but the Kremlin’s change in orientation began earlier, when Putin’s United Russia party started to strike co-operation agreements with specific neighbouring parties, like the Centre Party. Juskin points out that Russia urgently needs good relations with the European Union and thus is looking to “normalize” relations with the Baltic States. He says that, as enticement, Russia can open its markets to Baltic exports and it’s of no concern to Moscow which parties in the Baltic the Kremlin favours. The new Russian ambassador to Estonia, Juri Merziakov has expressed his intention to meet with leaders of Estonian parties.

The Centre Party’s vice-chairman and vice-chair of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Enn Eesmaa claims he hasn’t noticed any changes in Moscow’s new directions and that the Centre Party has no regular contacts with United Russia. One need not refute the credibility of Eesmaa’s seemingly defensive statement. Surely one measure of the effectiveness of any alleged change would be Moscow’s ability stay subtle and unobtrusive.
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