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Leonid Bershidsky

Estonia Can Handle Putin's Soft Power

Putin's influence is on the rise, but still not big enough to be a serious cause for concern.
Putin's reach exceeds his grasp.

Putin's reach exceeds his grasp.

Photographer: Simon Dawson
Updated on

The results of yesterday's parliamentary election in Estonia would not be of interest to anyone outside the tiny nation, were they not a test of Russian President Vladimir Putin's soft power in the post-Soviet Baltic states. The voting tallies suggest that influence is on the rise, though still not big enough to be a serious cause for concern. Still, the Estonian government will have to stay vigilant in its battle for the allegiance of the country's Russian speakers.

The only participant in Sunday's ballot that improved its performance compared with the previous election was the Center Party, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of Estonia's Russian population. The group won 24.8 percent of the vote, a slight increase from 23.3 percent in 2011. Yet the ruling Reform Party still beat it with 27.7 percent of the vote (down from 28.6 percent four years ago), and since it will form the ruling coalition, the Center Party -- shunned by most other Estonian political forces -- will not be part of it. This situation is echoed in Latvia, where Harmony, the party of Russian speakers, formed the biggest faction in parliament last October but was kept out of the governing coalition.