Estonia Says Russia Tries to Sway Local Vote Via Interpol

Members of Estonia’s government accused neighboring Russia of interfering in local politics after a candidate for mayor of the capital, Tallinn, was placed on Interpol’s wanted list on the eve of municipal elections.

Eerik-Niiles Kross, 46, of the junior coalition party Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit, is sought by Russia on charges of organizing piracy, according to Interpol’s website. Authorities in the former Soviet republic plan to file a protest with Interpol on the grounds that Russia’s actions are politically motivated, Interior Minister Ken-Marti Vaher, also of Isamaa, told Estonian public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhaeaeling Oct. 19. Preliminary vote results yesterday showed Kross failed to unseat incumbent Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar.

Disputes over the Baltic country’s treatment of its Russian-speaking minority have strained ties with Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Relations improved this year after hitting a low in 2007 over the relocation of a Soviet statue in Tallinn. Russian President Vladimir Putin this month approved a draft border treaty with Estonia.

“Russia has interfered with elections in Tallinn,” Isamaa Chairman and Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in an e-mailed statement Oct. 19 in connection with Kross’s political challenge to Savisaar. “Earlier they wanted to get back at Kross for his work in defending Georgia’s independence. Now they want to affect tomorrow’s vote so that Savisaar stays in power.”

Freighter Hijacking

Kross, a former diplomat and security official, advised Georgian authorities during and after that country’s five-day war with Russia in 2008. Former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, a critic of Putin, this month visited Tallinn to back Kross’s campaign, according to a video interview on the Postimees newspaper’s website on Oct. 4.

Russia alleges Kross had a role in the hijacking of the freighter Arctic Sea in July 2009. Russia attempted to add Kross to Interpol’s wanted list last year in connection with the case, Reijo Valgjarv, an official with the Estonian central criminal police and an Interpol representative in the country, told the public broadcaster Oct. 19.

Russia’s request for action on Kross was authorized this week by an Interpol commission that concluded Russia wasn’t politically motivated, he said.

“This is a provocation by Russia’s special services,” Kross said Oct. 19 in e-mailed comments forwarded by Isamaa’s press office.

Estonian Prosecutors

Estonian prosecutors, which have conducted their own investigation into the Arctic Sea case, have no grounds to suspect Kross in crimes alleged by Russia, chief state prosecutor Heili Sepp told the public broadcaster Oct. 19. Russian authorities haven’t cooperated fully to establish all facts in the case, she added.

Savisaar is mainly backed by local Russian speakers. His Center Party in 2004 signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party. Before general elections in 2011, authorities said the Center Party posed a security risk to Estonia by seeking financing from a potential Russian backer.

Center, which has had the majority in Tallinn municipal council since 2005, won in the capital with 50 percent support when more than three-quarters of the votes were counted, according to the National Electoral Committee website. Kross’s Isamaa was the runner-up with 20 percent, while Kross got 6,354, second only to Savisaar, securing him a seat on the local council.

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