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Center to retain cooperation agreement

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PHOTO: Elmo Riig

The prime minister’s party has no plan to close its cooperation agreement with United Russia. Some members of the party brass still regard the document as an important symbol for the Russian voter and believe that ending the agreement would create a negative media background.

Chairman of the Center Party Jüri Ratas almost went for broke in front of Postimees’ camera yesterday in trying to avoid giving a straight answer to the question of why does the Center Party still need its cooperation protocol with United Russia after Latvia’s Harmony Center dropped it.

“Because the protocol is dormant, no cooperation has been pursued,” Ratas maintained. The chairman saw no reason for Center to follow the example of Latvians. “We have no cooperation agreement with the Latvian party that would suggest the need to harmonize these kinds of messages. We are talking about two different parties in two countries.”

A source familiar with in-house affairs of the party’s board told Postimees that the situation regarding the protocol is confusing. “It has been discussed, while there are people who believe it (the protocol – ed.) infers some positive attitudes,” they said, hinting at the agreement’s potential for keeping Russian votes.

Another member of the party said the protocol is buried under a thick layer of dust, and that is exactly the way the party wants it. The idea is simple: while the existence of the cooperation protocol currently does not interest Russian voters, dropping it could polarize a certain part of Russian-speaking voters against Center.

Former member of the Center Party and its board Olga Ivanova confirmed as much. “It is very important for Center’s voters,” she said.

Ivanova basically echoed the opinion according to which the protocol is among untouchable topics in the party. “To some extent, yes. They are afraid that Russians will see through Center’s real policy,” the politician said regarding the potential consequences of closing the agreement.

However, there is also suspicion in the board that the agreement might not matter all that much to the Russian voter.

Journalist Pavel Ivanov agrees. “I believe this agreement does not sway the Russian voter. If they have a preference, it is not likely to change because of some cooperation protocol,” Ivanov said.

The journalist believes keeping the agreement frozen is senseless, and that the Latvians did the right thing by dropping it.

Deputy Chairman of the Center Party Jaanus Karilaid said that the party should not blindly follow the Latvians’ example, but added that the future of the protocol needs to be decided after the local elections.

The previous such attempt was made last year when the Center Party council discussed whether the new government could make it serve Estonia’s interests. The only relevant proposal was made by the Lääne County region under Karilaid.

Karilaid had ready proposals of how to carry the agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party into effect. “If the Russian Federation wanted to restore relations, it could simply return the president’s chain of office without the need for negotiations. That could be an initial gesture,” he said.

The council found itself over the barrel, and the agreement was left frozen. “It remains on ice so to speak. Because our foreign policy has a very rigid common stance on Russia, we have lacked the will to breathe life into the agreement,” Karilaid said.

The politician now believes the matter should be discussed again after local elections. A decision to drop the agreement would need to be supported by the party’s regional organizations.

“Neither option is off the table – putting the agreement to work for Estonia’s national interests, nor ending the federal cooperation protocol. The impulse could come from the party’s 20 regional offices. Lääne County alone is not enough; however, if we had 10-15 regions that found the matter important…” Karilaid said.

Latvia’s left-wing Harmony Center and its chairman Nils Ušakovs announced yesterday that their cooperation agreement with United Russia is no longer in effect.

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