Ossinovski: PM Kallas has not given exhaustive answers on spouse's business

Liisa Pakosta (Eesti 200), Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) delivering a joint press conference amid ongoing coalition talks late Monday afternoon. March 13, 2023.
Liisa Pakosta (Eesti 200), Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) delivering a joint press conference amid ongoing coalition talks late Monday afternoon. March 13, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Jevgeni Ossinovski, chair of the Social Democrats in the Riigikogu, said that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), has not given exhaustive explanations regarding her husband's business activities in Russia. He said that SDE aims to preserve the current coalition with Reform and Eesti 200, but Kallas and the Reform Party must address the controversy surrounding the prime minister.

"I would like clarify two issues: we certainly want to continue working with the Reform Party and Eesti 200. [However], we expect that the prime minister will be able to provide exhaustive responses to the issues that have arisen - responses that I don't think have been given so far," Ossinovski said in "Vikerhommik."

"I hope that in the near future she will come before the Riigikogu to give the answers that the members of the Riigikogu and the committees quite legitimately want to receive. And once these answers are exhaustive, once these explanations have been given, then it is possible to move on. If that doesn't happen, I think that's the point where you might have to think about other ways. But we are not there today," Ossinovski said.

He said the Social Democrats lack sufficient information to assess Kallas' credibility at this time. In another interview with ERR, Ossinovski emphasized that only Kallas herself knows what is really happening and whether or not she shared the whole truth. "I don't know," he added.

"This case is exceptional in that it involves one person, not a major conflict between political parties, when there are fundamental disagreements, or no desire to move forward in a coalition," he said.

"It is an issue of the prime minister's private and public life, which we hope she will be able to resolve and restore her credibility, and then we will not have more questions," said a member of the opposition.

He also didn't want to speculate on who would become prime minister if the Reform Party changed the leadership of the government. "I can assure you that the Social Democrats' position, should this occur, is that cooperation with the Reform Party and Eesti 200 is productive and we want to continue it. Obviously, if the Reform Party or the prime minister decide to make a change of some sort, that is their choice."

Asking for clarification from Kallas is fully justified

Ossinovski also said that, in his view, demanding explanations from Kallas is justified, as she is a public official in a democratic society.

"Public officials are always under scrutiny in a democratic societies, including their private lives and business associations. Everything has to be illuminated," he said.

Ossinovski emphasized that even though the prime minister herself is not responsible for her husband's actions, she must give honest answers about the situation.

"She is, of course, not [responsible] for her husband's actions. If there is something wrong, it is a personal matter. Rather, it is a question of the prime minister's ability to work under a mandate of trust; that is, in addition to the legal mandate, there must also be public trust that what we are hearing is truthful. And it is evident that legitimate worries have been raised about these issues, and that what we hear is also true," he said.

"For me, it's not a question how many trucks went to Russia or whether they will continue to do so – of course, these topics are also covered by the media, but do they provide any further insight? I think the key focus in the context of public authority is that integrity is the basis of credibility and these are the questions that need to be answered," he added.

When asked how difficult it will be for Kallas to reestablish credibility, especially in light of her changing answers, Ossinovski replied, "I think it's difficult. Regardless of what the prime minister decides and what her actions are going to be in the coming weeks – it's going to be tough and I think it's going to go on for some time."

Ossinovski did not want to give an assessment of what the prime minister's biggest mistake in the scandal was, but he suggested that the message should not be changing during a crisis.

"I don't know the whole truth; only she does. I believe that many of the questions that have been raised in society are related to the same need for understanding. I hope that clarity will come. The only thing that can be said, and this has been acknowledged by the prime minister on multiple occasions, is that when a crisis of this nature hits, the number one rule is not to change the message."

In general, repeating a narrative over time increases its credibility, but this may not have been possible in this instance. People are still human and perhaps in a stressful situation people make mistakes, misunderstand things, something can really go wrong, and it is possible to construct a false narrative from a single sentence."

The crisis is still in its "unfolding phase" and it is difficult to say "what is the heart of it and what is the surrounding dust," he said.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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