The week in pictures, December 15-21
The aftershocks of a former Internal Security Service employee, Uno Puusepp, who stated on Russian television that he had been a spy for Russia during his time working for the ISS, was the topic that still had people talking early last week.
The Russian media channel NTV claimed that Puusepp, an Estonian, was in fact a long-term Russian mole. Puusepp had a technical position and apparently slipped through any suspicion. Puusepp left the ISS in 2011 and Estonia earlier this year, and resides now in Moscow. He is married to a Russian.
"It appears that our small but sturdy Internal Security Service (ISS) have stepped on someones toes again, for it is quite without a precedent that the big bear gets so angry and takes such a step," former Minister of the Interior Ain Seppik told ERR's uudised.err.ee.
"If we talk about that particular case, then we should be very careful with drawing any conclusions. I understand that this man called Puusepp [the alleged spy], whom I am not familiar with, lives in Moscow. These days, people in Moscow can suddenly say the most surprising things," he added.
There was, however, good news for the ruling Reform Party, who saw its popularity hit a two-year high this month, with 32 percent saying they would vote for the party in the upcoming parliamentary elections in March. This was according to a poll conducted by TNS Emor.
Another worker's strike hit a European airliner last week, which affected air traffic to and from Tallinn. A one-day strike by Belgian unions cancelled four flights leaving or arriving at Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport, and also snarled public transport in the EU's capitol city, Brussels.
The Estonian-Georgian film "Tangerines" looks likely to continue appearing in ERR News' "Week in Pictures" for the foreseeable future, as it continues positioning itself in various awards categories. Last week it made it onto the short list for Academy Award for best foreign-language film, being one of nine candidates that will be further pared down to five in mid-January.
Estonia briefly detained a former Italian MEP and journalist last week, which caused a brief flurry of international headlines. Giulietto Chiesa was held after breaking what Estonian authorities said was a no-entry ban against him. Tuuli Härson, a spokesman for the police, said Chiesa was not stopped at a border as Schengen-area travel is not checked. He was later detained in his hotel.
Chiesa was due to speak at a NGO Impressum meeting titled “Does Europe need to fear Russia?” He has spoken at similar events organized by Impressum, which Estonian authorities say is a propaganda tool financed by the Russian government. Chiesa was a member of the Italian Communist Party, a MEP between 2004-2009 and was also stationed in Moscow for 20 years during the Soviet period as a Soviet Union-financed Italian journalist. He was shipped out of the country by train to Moscow.
In regional news, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills in Russia's Kaliningrad region, bordering Lithuania and Poland, earlier this month, Russian Defense Ministry disclosed on Tuesday. The massive surprise drill tested the combat readiness of some 9,000 troops and 642 vehicles, including tactical Iskander-M ballistic missile systems rapidly deployed from the mainland, the report said. The drill had took place from December 5-10.
The Estonian Parliament approved an amendment that reverses the permissive open container law that took effect this summer. The amendment passed with 69 votes in favor and one against. Seven MPs remained neutral. The law, when it comes into effect, once again forbids alcohol consumption in public places, unless stated otherwise.
The first of the 20 new trams that Tallinn City Transport bought from the Spanish firm CAF, arrived in Tallinn last week. The tram was assembled on the tracks and will first undergo a test period, during which it travels 1,000 kilometers in real road conditions. Testing should end in early February. The last of the 78-seat, low-floor, trams will arrive in the beginning of 2016.
The collapse of the Russian rouble against the euro and dollar made international and local waves last week. Russian banks increased base interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent on Tuesday, which only succeeded in halting the decline of the Russian currency for a few hours, and the ruble briefly hit the 100 rubles for 1 euro-mark on the day. A year ago one euro only cost 44 rubles.
The rouble's drop has not left Estonia untouched. It is the tourist high season for Russian visitors to Estonia, with New Years and Orthodox Christmas around the corner. Both periods are very lucrative for Estonian hotels and the tourism industry on the whole. Hotels have already seen many cancellations and are struggling to fill rooms, which they usually sell out for the end of December and first week of January for a premium. The drop in the rouble is also a concern for around 3,250 people living in Estonia that receive a pension from the Russian Federation.
Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, during a summit focused on economic cooperation between China and central and eastern European states, said Estonia is waiting for a real opening of the Chinese market to Estonian goods, especially agricultural products. His statement in Belgrade, Serbia, came after a meeting on Wednesday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
"Estonian producers are overjoyed by your statement that China’s market doors are open for Estonian goods,” Rõivas said to Li on Wednesday. "I believe that the Chinese side will rapidly institute procedures that lower trade barriers between Estonia and China in the field of agriculture, and that Estonian companies will have valid certificates for the export of its products to China."
Finally, Santa Claus, talking with the well-known voice of Estonian comedian Rohke Debelak, expressed his delight at the large crowd gathered to see him in Parliament on Thursday. After a short speech in which he put forward some not-so-serious suggestion to improve life in Estonia and pointed out his favorite new laws, Santa started handing out gifts to each faction, but warned that he had exchanged his traditional rod for a more modern taser.