NATO can breath a sigh of relief. In the recent Estonian elections, the ruling Reform Party led by 35-year-old, pro-Western Taavi Rõivas kept control, upsetting the expectations of pollsters, who predicted a win for the Kremlin-allied Centre Party. In large part due to Estonia’s large ethnic Russian population, the latter took very nearly a full quarter of the votes, trailing the eventual winner by less than three percent. The FT reports on just how close this NATO member nation was to electing a government that doesn’t seem to disapprove of Putin’s actions in Ukraine:
The Reform party, which has provided Estonia’s prime minister for the past decade, topped the polls with 27.7 per cent, slightly down from 2011. Centre received 24.8 per cent, up from 2011, while the Social Democrats, Reform’s partner in the current coalition, took 15.2 per cent.
Mr Rõivas has ruled out working with the Centre party because of its links with the Kremlin and the seeming failure of Edgar Savisaar, its leader to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea and creeping invasion of eastern Ukraine.“Silver medal shouldn’t be a disappointment for anyone,” said Mr Savisaar, according to a report by Baltic News Service. “A party that represents so many in Estonia can’t be shunned or forced to be silent.”Mr Savisaar, who is also mayor of Tallinn, the capital, received more votes than any other candidate.The current coalition of Reform and the Social Democrats will need the support of at least one more party if it is to continue in government, pointing to complicated negotiations ahead.
A little less than 25 percent of the vote may not seem that threatening a number, but the Centre Party is by some measure the most cohesive and organized political body in Estonia, and its near-miss in this election shows that it is well within striking distance of forming a pro-Russia government within NATO’s boundaries next time an election rolls around. With Putin greedily eyeing former Soviet territory, that could spell trouble.While on the one hand this election is a reminder that Estonia has a substantial Russian minority that commands a large if not definitive share of the popular vote, on the other it is also a reminder that Estonia is a legitimate democracy. And, had the Centre Party won, it may not have meant an open (or secret) invitation for Putin. There is at least anecdotal evidence that there may be little appetite among the Russian minority for actually rejoining Russia.