With 24 hours to go before local elections, a notice depicting IRL politician Eerik-Niiles Kross and saying that he was wanted by Russia for "prosecution/to serve a sentence" appeared on Interpol's site late yesterday.
Contrary to initial reports, it is the first time the notice has showed up, although the Russian warrant it is based on goes back to 2012 and has been widely considered not to be credible.
The Center Party seized on the story, with political secretary Mailis Reps saying that Russia's interest in questioning Kross over an incident where a ship was said to have been seized left a stigma on Kross and anyone who associated with him.
And party chairman Edgar Savisaar, whose Tallinn mayor post is being challenged by Kross, told Postimees it could even precipitate a government crisis. "How can Prime Minister Andrus Ansip continue with a government whose interior and defense ministers belong to a party that has put an international fugitive on its coat of arms in Tallinn?" Savisaar asked.
But the context - Kross has made sizable gains in the polls in recent weeks following a high-profile campaign, and the incumbent Center Party, still poised to win a majority of seats on Tallinn's city council, has close ties to the Russian Federation's ruling party - is leading many to dismiss the reappearance of the ad as a provocation.
It was also reported last week that members of a pro-Moscow group participated in organizing a recent Center Party demonstration in Tallinn.
IRL, which held a press conference this afternoon with two of its Cabinet ministers, is standing unanimously beside Kross. Marko Mihkelson, IRL's chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a public Facebook status today: "I don't remember an election with this much Russian interference."
A June 21 "disregard order" was issued by Interpol on the matter. It was immediately unclear whether the notice reflected a change in the international police organization's position. Later in the day, it emerged that an independent committee had cleared the posting.
Estonian experts familiar with the organization's practices initially said there was no change in Interpol's position.
At the press conference, Interior Minister and IRL member Ken-Marti Vaher said that the Interpol site in question was a messenger medium and that the fact that a posting appeared there did not reflect anything beyond the fact that Russian officials were still persisting in their own efforts to detain Kross. Russian authorities declared Kross wanted for questioning back in January 2012 in connection with an incident in which a ship was said to have been hijacked.
Kross issued a statement earlier today in which he said: "The fact that the Russian intelligence services are trying to discredit me is nothing new. To my knowledge, Estonia's relevant authorities are engaged in handling the Russian manipulation. The most recent official position from Interpol is that [Russia's action] has an unquivocally politically motivated intention. The only difference since the first Russian action taken against me is that I am threatening a Russian partner party's position of power in the Tallinn elections."
The Social Democrats also downplayed the significance of the Interpol notice. Andres Anvelt, a former police official and the party's mayoral candidate, said that any Interpol member is authorized to post its domestic warrants on the system. He said the "ball is in Kross's court" and that it is up to him to file a protest. Anvelt also lamented that international intrigue was upstaging local issues.
The Reform Party, IRL's partner in national government, also commented. In a carefully worded statement, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said it was "unacceptable to politicize a criminal investigation." He added that Estonian Prosecutor General Heili Sepp said evidence gathered did not provide a basis to suspect Kross of involvement in the Russian case.
However, a minority conservative party joined the Center Party in calling for Kross to recuse himself from the race.
"Kross could be proud of his fugitive status only as long as he was wanted only in Russia," said Mart Helme of the Conservative People's Party, who is polling around 5 percent in the mayoral race, on uudised.err.ee.