teisipäev, detsember 28, 2010

firing king kong

Blogger Flasher T of Antyx has an excellent rundown of the latest scandal to hit Edgar Savisaar, mayor of Tallinn and leader of the Centre Party (Keskerakond), the second largest party in the Estonian parliament.

In that post (and in other media) it is strongly hinted that someone within Savisaar's own party might have tipped off the Estonian secret services to Savisaar's attempts to procure money from Russia to finance the party's campaigns in the March 2011 parliamentary elections. Flasher also insinuated that the secret services were pressured to leak to story to the press. Savisaar has denied any wrongdoing, and still looks set to lead his party in March.

That might be good for the Centre Party in the short term -- Savisaar is still their most attractive candidate and biggest vote getter -- but in the long term, it is becoming more obvious that the man needs to go. SDE's departure from the Tallinn city coalition following the scandal did not exactly cause a political earthquake -- their share of the city government was small -- but it was a symbolic move, one that will remind Savisaar of the challenge the Centre Party would have in forming a parliamentary coalition. And the Centre Party cannot rule the Estonian parliament alone. It needs partners.

The inability of Centre to form a coalition ultimately hurts its voters. If the Reform and IRL parties really represent the interests of those who have benefitted most from neoliberal/conservative economic and social policies, then Centre and SDE should represent the losers (and there are a lot of them). In order for the losers to change the current policies, the power in parliament would have to reverse. That would require a center-left coalition, yet such a coalition is impossible as long as Savisaar stays in power. At the same time, it would be hard to get enough votes to form such a coalition without Savisaar's name at the top of the list.

It's likely that no one within the Centre Party wants to tell Savisaar that he has to go. Too many people owe him for their political careers. It would be like firing King Kong. At the same time, they must know that if they ever want to form a coalition in the Estonian parliament, they'll need a new leader.

kolmapäev, detsember 08, 2010

the mock outrage

Now that the "secret" contingency plans to defend the Baltic countries in the event of an attack have been "leaked" by Wikileaks and splashed across the pages of most global media outlets, a curious exchange of diplomatic doublespeak is underway.

It goes like this. Officially, NATO does not see Russia as a threat. But if the alliance has drawn up new contingency plans in case of a potential Russian attack on its members, then it does see it as a threat. Or maybe not. Here's Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo to explain:

Commenting on the US Tallinn Embassy cables published by Wikileaks, Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo said neither Estonia nor NATO have reason to consider Russia an enemy. Speaking on ERR radio, Aaviksoo said that drafting plans was a natural part of all defense endeavors. (courtesy ERR)

It's just natural to prepare for an possible attack, even if your neighbor officially poses no threat, though they recently held war games on their side of the border simulating the seizure of your country, right? Well, the Russians are naturally offended by the mere idea that there would be plans to defend Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from an attack. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, said that Moscow "must get some assurances that such plans will be dropped, and that Russia is not an enemy for NATO."

What infuriates me about this is how everyone has to tiptoe around Moscow. "Ok, Baltic States, we'll give you your contingency plans, but you must promise not to talk about it." Best not to offend the Russians. They are nuclear armed and unpredictable. We wouldn't want to actually let on that should Russia attack NATO member states, such actions might compel the alliance to come to their defense!

It appears that Russia still has a bit of a Baltic problem. According to their foreign policy, they have a "privileged interest" in the post-Soviet space. As the Baltic countries were once (unwilling) parts of the Soviet Union, that would seem to consign them to Russia's sphere of influence. However, the Baltic countries have joined the alliances of the West and therefore cannot be considered part of such a privileged sphere. I mean, Estonia will adopt the euro in a matter of weeks. Could it get any more obvious? They have left the "post-Soviet space," which would behoove Moscow to treat them like other European countries in the region, Finland, Sweden, and more recently, Poland.

On many levels, Estonian-Russian relations are just as normal as in those other countries. Russian tourists visit Estonia in droves. Cultural relations are humming along. Business relations tend to be good, when the politicians don't screw things up. But that's just it. The key obstacle to improvements in relations is political. A Russian foreign minister has not visited Estonia in the past 19 years! The Russian elite apparently cannot find the will to normalize relations, and yet they demonstrate mock outrage when "secret" contingency plans to defend the Baltic countries are published.

It's almost as if the Russians prefer to use the Baltics as a stumbling block in their relations with NATO.

teisipäev, detsember 07, 2010

early christmas present

British newspaper The Guardian has published this December 2009 US Embassy cable out of Tallinn, noting the Estonians' welcoming of the decision to expand NATO contingency plans to cover Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Paul Teesalu, director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Security Policy Division, is quoted as calling the decision an "early Christmas present."

Global media outlets have already published NATO's "secret plan" to defend the Baltics in case of Russian aggression. To me, this seems like old news. I've known about the contingency planning for months, for so long that I can't even remember where I found out about it. I have no special security clearance.

This article provides some more detailed information that I didn't know before: "Nine Nato divisions – US, British, German, and Polish – have been identified for combat operations in the event of armed aggression against Poland or the three Baltic states. North Polish and German ports have been listed for the receipt of naval assault forces and British and US warships."

Also interesting is from where the resistance to the contingency planning came. There are the usual suspects: "Attempts [in the past] ... to push through defence planning for the Baltic were stymied by German-led opposition in western Europe, anxious to avoid upsetting the Kremlin." The Germans were later assuaged to back the planning to reassure the edgy Baltics, on the condition that the Baltics agreed to the reset with Russia. But the Poles at first were also hesitant to expanding contingency plans to cover the Baltics. "They did not want the Polish plan to be diluted or held hostage in case other allies opposed adding the Baltic states."