Monday, December 27, 2010

The Savisaar Affair

Christmas is over, everyone’s had their say, so now it’s time for some questions and answers regarding the Savisaar/Yakunin business. For those who missed it: Edgar Savisaar, the leader of Estonia’s main opposition party, who also happens to be the mayor of the capital, has apparently been caught asking the head of a Russian state company for money. The Estonian counter-intelligence agency (Kapo) got wind of it and prevented the actual handover from happening. The information got leaked to the press and generated a massive shitstorm on the Estonian political scene, reinforced by the fact that the parliamentary elections are coming up in March. I’ve done my best to follow it and figure out what’s going on, and the relevant points are listed below.

Did Savisaar take money from Russia for a politically-motivated project?

Yes. This is not in dispute by anyone. Savisaar’s electoral base is heavily tilted towards the Russian-speaking minority (especially in municipal elections, where all residents get to vote, even those who are not Estonian citizens). As mayor, he got heavily involved in the construction of a new Russian Orthodox church in the capital’s predominantly Russian suburb. He asked for money to build the church from Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the Russian railroad company. The construction of the church was financed to the tune of some 13,5 million kroons (860 000 Euro) of money that came from the Russian government.

Was he being up front about it?

Yes and no. Simply inviting another government to pay for a community project is not illegal; it’s not even particularly immoral. However, the church financing was not transparent. The money actually came from the accounts of a Russian entrepreneur associated with the transit business. It was only after Kapo confronted Savisaar that an official contract was signed between the Estonian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church and a charitable fund controlled by Yakunin. That said, Savisaar did announce Yakunin’s involvement publicly at the start of the construction, so while the implementation is iffy, there’s really nothing major to put against Savisaar in this regard.

Did Savisaar ask Russia for money to finance his election campaign?

Yes. This is the question that Savisaar will not answer directly. All his public statements have called attention to the fact that the church financing was legitimate, that he never actually got any money, that he was cooperating with Kapo, that someone leaked secret information to the press, etc. However, the core of the accusation against Savisaar – his primary wrongdoing – is that he conspired with a Russian state official to secretly receive 1,5 million Euro of the Russian government’s money for his election campaign. Savisaar has entirely avoided this point in his press statements. He has not said that this is untrue.

Did he actually get the money?

No. The chief of Kapo invited him over for a chat and told him not to take the money. This was a day before Yakunin was due in Estonia on an official visit. Previously, a planned handover by somebody working for Yakunin failed in a slightly mysterious way that also suggests Kapo involvement – see below.

What if he had gotten the money?

It would have given his party a hell of a budget for the campaign, by Estonian standards. It also would have meant that a person who could potentially become the prime minister, or hold another key government post, would owe favors to the Russian government. Certainly Yakunin thought it was a sufficiently big deal to demand absolute secrecy, not discussing anything on the phone, not even setting up meetings on the phone, for fear of wiretaps. (Yakunin himself is a former KGB operative.) On the other hand, as was pointed out by the former Chancellor of Justice, the parliament actually recently passed a bill that de-criminalizes receiving money in secret for political purposes, so even in the worst case scenario, Savisaar would not have gone to jail.

Did he really need the money?

Yes. The Center Party is deeply in debt. Member contributions have been shrinking. Earlier this year, a construction company actually sued for bankruptcy of the party for failure to pay for renovations to their HQ. At that time, the debt got paid off from money that is handed out by the state as support for political parties – meaning that the Center Party’s own fundraising efforts have not been successful. In addition, Savisaar has recently gone through a divorce; his wife, who was a major Center Party figure as well, is now a member of the European Parliament for Estonia. Savisaar does not appear to have much of a personal fortune, especially not after the divorce. Even if this scandal had not happened, Savisaar’s chances to win the upcoming parliamentary elections would have been quite slim without the money to run an all-out campaign.

Is this election that important to him?

Yes. This is the big one, for the parliament, and it will determine who gets to be prime minister – who gets to run the country for the next four years. Savisaar’s support base will already be narrower, since only Estonian citizens can vote in parliamentary elections (all residents can vote in municipal ones, which is how he got to be mayor of the capital – a lot of the Russian-speakers are either citizens of Russia or non-citizens, and just have residence permits). The ethnic-Estonian voters are already galvanized against Savisaar to a large extent; in his efforts to gain the favor of the Russian voters, who tend to feel disenfranchised and hate the right-wing coalition parties, Savisaar has built up an image of someone who is very cozy with the Kremlin. His failure to denounce the Bronze Soldier riots in 2007 did not help, and this year he is up against an inevitable popularity boost for the pro-European coalition, on the back of Euro accession. His Center Party has always been one of the greatest political forces in Estonia, and it’s not unthinkable that he would win the parliamentary elections. But another four years in opposition will be terrible: he’s an old man, and some senior figures in his own party would not mind seeing him leave. I won’t be so categorical as to say this is Savisaar’s last chance, but it’s an increasingly uphill battle for him.

Has the scandal destroyed his chances in the election?

Not really. There are still enough voters out there who either benefited from Savisaar’s policies – such as old-age pension supplements to Tallinn residents – or just plain hate the coalition parties. The Russian-speakers in Tallinn and the heavily-immigrant northeast of the country have a deep distrust of the coalition parties, and will vote for Savisaar regardless, simply because he is the only option they see. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a lot of them won’t see the problem in their candidate taking Kremlin money to begin with.

Can the Kapo report be trusted?

A lot of Savisaar supporters just dismiss it outright. Until they see facts, they will not believe any of it happened; as far as they are concerned, the chief of Kapo is simply lying. Never mind that the report does actually contain some verifiable details (such as the presence of Yakunin at Savisaar’s farm outside of any official visits). This is something every reader just has to decide for themselves. In my opinion, if the Estonian security services were to lie outright, they would probably make it more compelling than this. Kapo did not leak the information, and was very reluctant to issue any kind of public statement at all; after the report I translated, they have not commented at all. If Kapo was out to discredit Savisaar, doing the coalition’s dirty work, they would probably have let the cash delivery go ahead and taped it, catching Savisaar in the act – not prevented it. Some of the senior Center Party members – those that have held the post of Internal Affairs minister, so have worked with Kapo directly – said they trust the report (although these are also Savisaar’s internal opponents). Finally, like I said before, Savisaar has not actually denied asking Yakunin for campaign finance. For that matter, Yakunin has not actually commented at all.

Was Kapo politically pressured?

Yes. Releasing information like this is highly unusual for any secret service. As little as the Kapo chief actually said in his report, it was still something he would not have done without massive political pressure from the cabinet.

What is on the conversation tape?

Nothing conclusive. Savisaar has demanded that Kapo release the tape of the conversation between him and the Kapo chief, when he was notified that Kapo was involved. For Savisaar, it’s a no-lose scenario: Kapo will almost certainly refuse for reasons of spycraft best practices alone, so he can continue confusing the media message. Even if Kapo released the tape, what could it possibly contain? A third-degree interrogation of a powerful politician? Or a civilized discussion, with mentions of continuing to draw the Russians in, just in case something interesting develops? Even if the Kapo chief was not putting out cigarettes on Savisaar’s arm, it doesn’t mean Savisaar was not caught doing something extremely unpleasant.

Who told Kapo about the deal?

Probably Denis Borodich, the deputy mayor of Tallinn. We’ll never know for sure, at least not for a few decades, until the memoirs are published. But Borodich was there at key points in the negotiations (even if the Kapo report is carefully structured not to suggest his direct involvement). He was originally supposed to receive the Russian cash from Yakunin’s man, but was conveniently unreachable on the day. He was out of the country when the scandal broke, and upon his arrival, was whisked away by Savisaar for another one of those civilized conversations. It’s likely that Borodich felt like he was being set up. Hell, maybe he genuinely felt that taking Kremlin money for campaign finance is wrong.

Who leaked the story to the press?

Hard to say for sure. Possibly the prime minister or one of the other key cabinet ministers, possibly some of the people that were notified after the fact. Apparently this included foreign diplomats (almost certainly station chiefs for intelligence services of friendly nations), and senior parliament members. It might even have been Ain Seppik or Kalle Laanet – two of the Center Party’s Old Guard who are said to be engineering Savisaar’s ejection. What’s certain is that the government was not at all disappointed when the leak occurred.

Any other questions?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Savisaar File

A full analysis coming tomorrow; for now, here is my translation of the Estonian security police's statement regarding the mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar, and his campaign financing from a Russian state company.



21.12.2010 nr 98T

Early Deletion of Confidentiality from State Secrets

Based on section 1 and section 3 subsection 9 of paragraph 13 of the State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States Act, section 3 of paragraph 6 of the Minister of Interior Affairs’ regulation nr 55 of December 10th 2009 “General regulation of the Department of Security Police”, and proceeding from section 1 of paragraph 2 and paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Security Authorities Act, as well as the need to fulfill the legal duties placed upon the Department of Security Police to prevent damage to state interests by notifying the public, I am executing an early deletion of confidentiality from information that was restricted as “Secret” in accordance with subsection 1 section 4 paragraph 7 of the Government of the Republic’s regulation nr 262 of December 20th 2007 “Procedure for Protection of State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States”, which no longer requires protection from publication in the interests of ensuring the security of the Republic of Estonia, to the following extent:

Financing the Lasnamäe Orthodox Church

On February 9th 2010, the president of JSC Russian Railroads, Vladimir Yakunin, took part in the Railroad Forum that took place in Estonia. During a dinner on the same night, which was attended by Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, Tallinn deputy mayor Denis Boroditch, Vladimir Yakunin, and chief of staff of the president of Russian Railroads Vladimir Bushuyev, E. Savisaar asked V. Yakunin for financial support for the construction of an orthodox church in Lasnamäe, Tallinn. V. Yakunin expressed an agreement to make the investments, asking first for a more exact calculation of the money needed for the construction. E. Savisaar presented a preliminary calculation, according to which the requirement was for 13,5 million kroons, which would be enough to finish the church’s façade. During the same visit V. Yakunin met with Metropolitan Kornelius of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (hereafter EOCMP). During the visit they agreed that on the Moscow side, the issues of the church shall be handled by V. Bushuyev, who will need to determine the person who will deal with construction issues on the Russian side and notify D. Boroditch of this. The person in question turned out to be businessman Sergei Petrov, who was engaged in the coal business in Estonia through AS Petromaks Spediitor.

The decision to provide support in the amount of 1,5 million euro for the construction of the Lasnamäe orthodox church was made public during the visit of Russian Railroads president Vladimir Jakunin on February 9th, 2010.

Between February and October of 2010, approximately 13,5 million kroons were transferred from accounts of Sergei Petrov’s companies to the accounts of EOCMP, for the specific purpose of constructing the church.

Only on November 26th, 2010 a tripartite contract for the financing of the Lasnamäe orthodox church was signed by the St. Andrew Foundation, EOCMP and the Tallinn City Government.

Asking for Money for the Center Party Election Campaign

On May 10-11, 2010, E. Savisaar and Center Party MP Vladimir Velman visited Moscow, where they arranged for V. Yakunin’s visit to Estonia in June.

On June 23-24, 2010, V. Yakunin visited Estonia. V. Bushuyev arrived in Estonia as early as June 22nd, 2010. On June 23rd, 2010, V. Bushuyev, S. Petrov, Jevgeni Tomberg and D. Boroditch visited the construction site of the Lasnamäe church. On the evening of the same day, V. Yakunin arrived in Estonia, to take part in the midsummer bonfire at Edgar Savisaar’s Hundisilma farm.

On the morning of June 24th, the guests participated in a motorboat pleasure cruise in Tallinn Bay. During the pleasure cruise, V. Yakunin notified D. Boroditch of the fact that “you won’t get the 3 you asked for, but you will get 1,5”.

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Kiltsi manor compound in Lääne-Virumaa county. At the manor compound, E. Savisaar, D. Boroditch, V. Bushuyev, S. Petrov and V. Yakunin stepped aside, on the suggestion of the latter, for a private covert conversation. During the conversation, V. Yakunin announced that the Center Party would receive support for the Estonian parliamentary elections in the amount of 1,5 million euro. 1/3 of that would be delivered in cash, the other 2/3 by wire transfer, based on invoices. At the same time V. Yakunin stressed to all participants that the deal must not be discussed anywhere by anyone. During the conversation, S. Petrov on one side and D. Boroditch on the other side were assigned as persons responsible for the delivery and legalization of the money.

On September 13th, 2010, E. Savisaar and D. Boroditch visited Moscow and attended a dinner at the Russian Railroads residence, which included V. Yakunin, V. Bushuyev, D. Boroditch and E. Savisaar. Several topics were discussed during the dinner. Among these were: the financing of the Lasnamäe church, the progress of the church’s construction, the timing of the various stages of construction in conjunction with the upcoming parliamentary elections, their tie-in with the elections; the importance and significance of the Dialogue of Civilizations conference on Rhodos; how Russia can officially, by sending its delegates, support the execution of the Rural People’s Congress that was being organized in Estonia by the Center Party. In addition to the above, the Center Party financing scheme was also discussed during the dinner.

E. Savisaar confirmed the agreement from Kiltsi manor in July: 1/3 in cash and 2/3 in wire transfers, mentioning that paying the entire sum in cash could also be resolved. After that, V. Yakunin demanded that all further dealings proceed with absolute covertness, referencing his extensive experience in operational work. The demand involved a complete ban on using phones to discuss issues of the money delivery, arranging meetings, and other sensitive issues.

On October 27th, 2010, S. Petrov arrived in Estonia and actively sought contact with D. Boroditch. As the latter was not present in Estonia, the contact attempt failed. On the next day S. Petrov left Estonia, notifying V. Bushuyev immediately upon arrival in Moscow that the planned meeting with D. Boroditch was not successful.

Based on the above, the Department of Security Police had sufficient basis to believe that the Russian side is actively seeking contact to deliver the money to the Center Party. Considering also the circumstance that the anniversary event of the Estonian Railroad on November 4th, 2010, was due to include a visit by V. Yakunin and V. Bushuyev, a decision was made on November 3rd 2010 to conduct conversations with Edgar Savisaar and S. Petrov, who was arriving in Tallinn on the same day.

During the conversation that took place on November 3rd, 2010, E. Savisaar’s attention was called to the opportunity for his person and party to be compromised, inherent in asking a foreign state for money for the party, and the associated security threats.

On November 4th, officers of the Security Police conducted a similar conversation with D. Boroditch, who had previously been on vacation.

On November 6th, 2010, a conversation took place between E. Savisaar and V. Yakunin, discussing the need to sign a tripartite contract to legalize the money provided to support the Lasnamäe church and avoid a possible scandal.

On November 26th, 2010, the Lasnamäe church financing contract was signed. V. Bushuyev arrived in Tallinn from Moscow for this, carrying a contract signed in Moscow by Sergei Scheblygin, president of the St. Andrew Foundation. The signatures of representatives from the Tallinn City Government and the EOCMP were gathered on the contract by Jevgeni Tomberg. On the next day, mayor Edgar Savisaar presented the contract at the Tallinn City Government.

Raivo Aeg

Director General

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Monika, You Bitch!

Estonia is in the middle of Cyclone Monica - a massive snowstorm. Mostly it's being handled, a lot of parked cars are going to stay where they are for a while, but the streets are at least passable. My lolcar is doing great - it's light, short, has decent road clearance, and hardcore studded tires. It might need a few passes to get out of a snowdrift after being parked for a day, but it hasn't come close to getting seriously stuck yet. Anyway, Tartu is not next to any large body of water, so we've had it relatively easy. The northern coast is getting the worst of it by far.

This sort of thing tends to happen once a year or so, and I think people are used to it. As usual, the most important thing is not to panic. The second most important thing is to stay off the intercity freeways, and definitely stay off the side roads. Main roads get cleaned, but it's still a hazard; side roads are sacrificed.

Tallinn Airport reports that its runway is clear, but they've diverted all
Polish cargo planes, just in case.

The biggest crisis is one particular stretch of the Tallinn-Narva(-St. Petersurg) road, where a couple of lorries on summer tires failed to climb out of a valley, leading to a massive traffic jam that got snowed in almost immediately. This being Estonia, people stuck there have Internet access, so reports and pictures have been coming in. The news daily Postimees is publishing information from the owner of a catering company, who got stuck in the middle of it with a van full of food. A number of intercity coaches are stuck as well, and those have full fuel tanks and on-board tea/coffee facilities. So people weren't in real danger - and it's not actually that cold, only a few degrees below freezing, though there's a wind chill.

(Update: As of publishing, Postimees reports that all the people have been rescued off the road. Some of them were housed in a local school gymnasium. The freeway is passable, albeit slowly.)

The road cleaners have been doing a heroic job all over the country, and from what I can tell, there's no real shortage of equipment, but drivers started getting too sleep-deprived after the first day or so. The army and the Kaitseliit (National Guard equivalent) got called in, with their tracked vehicles, to rescue people who were trapped in their cars out in the countryside. Besides that one highway block, the biggest difficulties were experienced by commuters who live outside Tallinn. Then again, it may be that these are just the people complaining the loudest: Postimees has published an article by a woman who, with her husband, had to spend a night in their car. While I'm sure it was very unpleasant for her, the exasperated calls for an explanation of why the army was not called in immediately to deal with the crisis are made very ironic by her own admission a paragraph below that she was rescued and delivered to her doorstep by an army caterpillar. I think it's worth pointing out that the Estonian army does not have a significant number of tracked vehicles anyway. The heavy trucks and armored personnel carriers can get through most of the snow just fine, but aren't equipped for road-clearing duty (can you even mount a plough on a Pasi?).

The other absolute heroes of the day are the rescue crews. This is literally a couple days after they picketed the government offices, demanding fair wages; those guys get paid scandalously little money. Not just for the difficulty and importance of the work they do, but by any standard. My furry flappy-eared hat off to them; they are unassailably awesome.

Overall, the astounding thing about the snowstorm is just how well the country is handling it. The number of traffic jams is not overwhelming; one person has died after walking out into the road when his Land Rover got stuck on the freeway and getting hit by a passing vehicle. Another two elderly people have died of hypothermia. That's tragic, but it could have been so much worse. Lots of people have been rescued. The cities are mostly operating as usual; there's less traffic on the roads and getting anywhere takes a lot longer, but the overwhelming majority of the population seem to be exercising caution and common sense with admirable results. Those who can help others, do. Those who can't, stay out of harm's way. It is a true testament to what is great about Estonia's peasant spirit. Worst snowstorm in memory? Don't worry about it. Move along, nothing to see here. We've got this covered.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wait, What?

The most locally relevant thing in the Wikileaks infodump so far has been the business surrounding the NATO defense plan. Now, nothing actually secret has come out of the cables, as far as I can see - we knew back in Spring that a Baltic defense plan existed, and even that nine divisions were earmarked for it. The particular Polish and North German ports that would act as naval bases were not mentioned, but I expect anyone who's researched NATO naval capabilities and the state of the Baltic coast would find the choices either self-evident or at least expected.

Like with most Wikileaks material, the important part is not the information itself - which was either publically known, heavily suspected, or ought to have been inferred by the intelligence analysts of what used to be called the Likely Antagonist. The important part is that the implied factors have now been confirmed. Theories about how the other side might react now have a very convincing basis.

And when politicians are forced to stop bullshitting, everyone else gets a moment of clarity as well. A moment of true intentions becoming apparent.

Cue the statement of Russia's envoy to NATO, one Dmitry Rogozin - a loudmouth of some standing, admittedly, but someone who is acting in an official capacity as a representative of the Russian government:

"We must get some assurances that such plans will be dropped, and that Russia is not an enemy for NATO," he said. "I expect my colleagues from the NATO-Russia Council to confirm that Lisbon has made all the difference."

Rogozin said that despite official denials by NATO officials, the plan was clearly aimed at his country. "Against whom else could such a defense be intended? Against Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, against polar bears, or against the Russian bear?" he said.

Let that sink in for a moment. Russia, attempying to normalize its relations with NATO and no longer be seen as NATO's possible enemy, insists that NATO stop intending to defend its member states. Rogozin would like NATO to make a policy that it will allow Russia to invade NATO states and will not respond to it.

Under no reasonably conceivable circumstances is the Baltic defense plan a threat to Russia's current territorial integrity. Never mind that NATO has no interests in Russia - if you were an end-of-days conspiracy freak, you could come up with a scenario of NATO swooping in to secure natural gas supplies for Western Europe, but that gas comes from Central Asia and having control over the Nord Stream beach head is not enough to guarantee uninterrupted delivery - but in any case, nine divisions plus the local strength is not enough to mount any sort of credible invasion of Russia.

The Baltic defense plan in its leaked form could not possibly constitute any kind of threat to Russia's territory. The only reason Russia would object to it so strongly - more strongly than China today objects to US forces stationed in Taiwan - is if the defense plan were a threat to Russia's ambitions.

Take some time to think about the implication of Russia getting seriously upset about a legitimate Western commitment to protect the Baltics and Poland against invasion. For my money, this signals that Russia has still not come to terms with the Baltics falling outside of its sphere of influence, and if at this point it is unwilling or incapable to get control of the territory by military means, it has most certainly not discarded the option in its mid- to long-term intentions.

As I never get tired of saying: Yes, we're paranoid about Russia. Yes, they're actually after us.


Bonus 1: Giustino weighs in.

Bonus 2: With my Tom Clancy rubber face mask on, I've actually come up with a scenario where NATO troops in the Baltics are a threat to Russia's territorial integrity. It involves a massive uprising of Ingrians - ethnic Finno-Ugrians living at the butt of the Gulf of Finland, the native population that was there before Saint Petersburg was built. How many genuine ethnic Ingrians are left is a matter of some speculation, but there is certainly a group of people who self-identify as Ingrians, and juxtapose that identity to the Russian state. Most of them make the effort to obtain Estonian or Finnish citizenship, and the movement does profess the theoretical desire of establishing an Ingrian state that would follow in the footsteps of Finland and Estonia, resolutely Western-minded. From what I've seen, the driving force behind it is hatred of the Russian central authorities, more than any genuine desire for cultural self-determination, and in the event of a massive institutional collapse in the Russian Federation the Ingrian banner may just be taken up by people whose primary intention is to reject the rule of Moscow kleptocrats.  

If so, a significant NATO deployment just across the Narva river may be tempted to move in, under the guises of a peacekeeping mission. Hell, even material support and a base of operations would be sufficiently dangerous, if the Ingrian cause is used as a pretense by a sufficiently large rebel force. Remember your history. About a century ago, the Judenich corps, remnants of the Russian Imperial army, laid siege to Petersburg and came uncomfortably close to capturing it. Judenich was ultimately defeated by the brilliant military leadership of Leo Trotsky, but a big part of that was the withdrawal of support (and eventual outright betrayal) by Estonian command. This was the tail end of the Liberation War, when the Gulf was controlled by a British naval expeditionary force and Estonia had just defeated the German Landeswehr, liberated Latvia and fought the Bolsheviks to a stalemate on its eastern border. The Estonian leadership had no intention of prolonging the war with whoever controlled Russia, its purpose was independence and territorial security, not conquest; but if the Estonian army, battle-hardened and armed with Entente weapons, had actually backed Judenich and attacked Petersburg, Trotsky's militia could very well have failed.

Rogozin and his ilk might be seeing Ingria as a potential Kosovo - or potential South Ossetia, pick your poison. I don't believe NATO would rush to intervene in an Ingrian uprising, for pretty much the same reason that Estonia did not get involved in Judenich's campaign. But since we're talking about implications, here's one: if the Russian state leadership thinks that a credible NATO presence at the Baltic border could actually make a difference, then perhaps the Russian state is closer to the brink of failure than we think.


| More