Enigmatic Estonian politician causing a rift at the Reform Party (3)
Eerik-Niiles Kross, a security expert and an entrepreneur, recently ditched IRL for Reform Party, in a shock move, given his status. However, he may be in for a cold shower, as many prominent Reform politicians have publicly declared their discontent at Kross joining their party.
Kross, a former diplomat at the Estonian embassies in London and Washington, has a colourful past.
A son of one of the most famous Estonian writers, Jaan Kross, during the 1980s, Kross joined the anti-Soviet resistance movement in Soviet Estonia. After the country regained its independence in 1991, he joined Estonia's Foreign Ministry and later served as the head of intelligence and as national security advisor to former President Lennart Meri. He began his international career during the Iraq War, when he worked in Iraq as a Senior Director of the Coalition Provisional Authority, responsible for creating the new Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Military Intelligence. Lucrative private contracts followed, including a stint at advising the Government of Georgia during and after its war with Russia in 2008.
Whether it was this position or the fact that Kross published many articles on Russian foreign policy, NATO and Estonian-Russian relations, and criticised the Russian foreign policy and Vladimir Putin, or the fact that in 2011, Russian authorities accused him of organising the 2009 hijacking of the merchant cargo vessel MV Arctic Sea off the coast of Sweden, Kross is wanted by Russia.
MV Arctic Sea was reportedly transporting Russian anti-aircraft weapons and cruise missiles destined for Iran and after being caught and taken to court by the Russian authorites, the crew named Kross as the mastermind behind the hijacking. Russia then placed Kross on the Interpol's “wanted” list. Kross himself has always rejected all these accusations and has said that the Russian authorities are after him purely because of political motives.
In Estonia, the public opinion was clearly behind Kross in relation to Russia, especially since the Crimea and Ukraine crisis started. Joining with conservative IRL in 2011, and as a mayoral candidate, Kross was behind the party's aggressive local election campaign in Tallinn in autumn 2013, winning as many votes as the Reform Party and the Social Democrats combined. This, however, was nowhere near the winning result of Edgar Savisaar's Center Party. It was around this time when the Interpol's question suddenly arose again. IRL's Interior Minister Ken-Marti Vaher personally threw himself to the Kross rescue and flew to Paris, at the international Interpol headquarter's, to get Kross's name removed from the fugitive list. But the then Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was somewhat cooler in his reaction, publicly raising doubts about Kross's integrity.
Another aspect also emerged. Namely that in a surreal twist, the United States had placed a lifetime visa ban on Kross, denying him an entry to the country of his current wife, American artist Mary Jordan.
It is one of the questions some high-profile Reform Party politicians now want an answer for – “why does Russia want Kross and why does the United States not want him,” as Valdo Randpere, the Reform Party's mayoral candidate during the last local elections in Tallinn, put it.
At IRL, Kross enjoyed a strong position. Long associated with the original founders of Isamaaliit, such as the former Prime Minister Mart Laar, Kross himself recently admitted that it was practically “his home party.” He was the vice chairman of the party and would have in no doubt secured a prime position at the party's parliament election list in March and become an MP. Hence, his sudden switch to Reform Party in late October came as a shock for most people. Many at IRL felt betrayed, while the older generation of Reform Party politicians were not rushing to jump with joy either. It was speculated in the media that Kross was under pressure to switch to the party holding the interior minister position, namely because of his unverified foreign affairs. The other version pointed out that Kross has a joint business venture with one of the ideologists of the Reform Party, Rain Rosimannus, the husband of the current Foreign Minister.
As always, Kross himself has denied any murky business, maintaining that he ditched IRL purely on ideological reasons. Kross was one of the few prominent IRL members who publicly supported the coalition cohabitation bill, which gave same-sex couples a legal right to register their partnership. Another issue where he is more liberal, is relaxing some of the laws in relation to Russian-speaking minority in Estonia. IRL is too conservative and nationalistic, Kross said, adding that he was unable to change the mood in the party, hence the switch. Afterwards, he still said that his ideal would be to have the Reform and IRL forming coalition government again, as opposed to any combination featuring the Center Party.
But the Reform Party is not united in admitting Kross among the party ranks. After a relative silence on the issue, in which few dared to publicly criticize the decision to accept him, it has now emerged that in reality, very few at the party knew of his switch and were not welcoming Kross at all. Estonian media has reported that the young Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus were among the few who knew about Kross's move, others were kept in the dark. On Wednesday, the Reform party board members will gather to discuss among other things Kross's personal question.
Andrus Ansip, the former Prime Minister and now the Estonian EU commissioner, has publicly denounced Kross's accession. He is one of the few, among the former Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who might know the reason why the United States has set a lifetime visa ban on Kross. Since it is supposed to be a state secret, they don't disclose it. It is mostly this fact, not that the Russia is after him, that has polarized the opinion. What does the Estonia's most important ally, the US, know about Kross that we don't know, people ask.
“I do not think that the Reform Party needs a person who is banned to visit the United States. The American decision is remarkable, and taken into account that we know there's a conflict - the US vs. Kross - then I believe it is not reasonable to choose a wrong side in this conflict,” Ansip said in an interview with Eesti Päevaleht.
It has previously been disclosed that the US has also requested a ban on giving Kross any position that has an access to NATO-related state secrets, effectively ruling out government posts. But this does not stop him becoming a member of the parliament.
The governing Reform Party will decide Kross's fate on Wednesday evening. In their party, that is.