Following a meeting with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Public Affairs Mihhail Korb (Center) announced on Wednesday night that he had resigned due to the scandal that erupted earlier that day following a comment he had made on Tuesday night indicating his lack of support for Estonia's NATO membership.
Korb told the press following a nearly three-hour-long meeting with Ratas that he made his decision in the interests of the health of the government coalition.
"I wish for the coalition to continue," he commented. "I believe that today's coalition is a guarantee for Estonia's good future and I do not want to create obstacles in the work of this coalition, as it has accomplished a great deal during the past half a year and great things are yet to come."
Korb stressed that Estonia must belong to NATO and the EU. "I created confusion with my [anti-NATO] statement, which I should not have been allowed to do," he explained. "A minister may not express themselves so unclearly."
Ratas acknowledged Korb for his professional and dedicated work in the Estonian government. "Mihhail Korb confirmed to me once more that he supported Estonia's NATO membership but he will take responsibility for his unfortunate statement," said the prime minister. I acknowledge his statesmanlike decission. The [Estonian] government's position on security policy is unanimous and has not changed."
The Center Party chairman also admitted that a situation in which a second Center Party member has had to leave the government is not a good one.
Pressure from IRL
According to information known to ERR, Korb's resignation was preceded by pressure from the opposition Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), who on the chairman level essentially presented the head of government with an ultimatum, tying Korb's continuation as Minister of Public Administration with the survival of the current ruling coalition, which currently consists of the Center Party, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and IRL.
Once the prime minister has received Korb's letter of resignation, he will forward it to President Kersti Kaljulaid. Ratas will begin the search for candidates for the ministerial position in the near future.
Ministers, opposition leaders called for Korb's resignation
Regional paper Lääne Elu reported on Wednesday that Korb had told veterans at a meeting in Haapsalu on Tuesday that he was not in favor of NATO membership.
"I... might say a phrase that is disagreeable from the Estonian perspective — I am not in favor of NATO membership," said Korb. "I like Finland's policy on this matter. But to build your own army, that will get even more expensive. Do you understand? The Finns are building their own army; they are separate from NATO and are handling the protection of their country themselves. But nobody will come to their rescue."
In a press release issued by the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday, Korb apologized and announced that he supported the fundamental principles of Estonia's security policy.
Following this, Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna (IRL) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser (SDE) both made statements, finding that a minister with such opinions cannot continue as a member of the Cabinet. A number of opposition politicians expressed similar opinions during the afternoon.
Korb told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" in a studio interview on Wednesday evening that he had wanted to speak of the Estonian Defence Forces in a positive light in Haapsalu on Tuesday.
"I described that, in an ideal situation, we would possess our own defense forces which could handle all threats on their own," he explained. "Clearly this was an unfortunate example and so the consequences had to be dealt with."
Korb also denied that a policy prevailed in the Center Party according to which different audiences were told different things. "This is not so; the Center Party's policy is one and the same," he said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla