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Latvia's Saskaņa party ditches agreement with Putin's United Russia

Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs.
Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs. Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Riga mayor and Saskaņa (Harmony) Party leader Nils Ušakovs announced on LTV on Monday that his party was going to cancel its cooperation agreement with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia. The step has implications for Estonia as well, as the governing Center Party has a similar agreement in place.

Saskaņa signed its agreement with United Russia in 2009. Like the Estonian Center Party, which signed a similar agreement in 2004, Saskaņa in the past defended it referring to the importance of continuing dialogue with the Kremlin and Russian politics on the whole.

Speaking on LTV on Oct. 9, Ušakovs said that as Saskaņa had joined the Party of European Socialists, and as the latter arranged their cooperation with non-EU parties in a centralized manner, the agreement with United Russia “lapsed in 2016” and “has lost its applicability”, Latvian state broadcaster LSM’s English news service reported.

The move was “logical”, Ušakovs said, though pragmatic cooperation with Russia would remain important in the future as well. Saskaņa’s stance on relations with Russia hadn’t changed, the chairman insisted.

Other parties refused to cooperate with Saskaņa

Some of Latvia’s political parties refused to cooperate with Saskaņa because of its ties to United Russia, which put it in a similar position as Estonia’s Center Party. Until the end of the Savisaar era and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’ election to the position of Center Party chairman, the party was relatively isolated.

As LSM’s English service reports, political scientist Filips Rajevskis said the dropping of the agreement with United Russia was likely an attempt to increase Saskaņa’s appeal ahead of parliamentary elections in a year's time.

The Center Party at this point does not have as convenient an excuse to let go of its own agreement with United Russia, though Ratas as well as other senior party members have pointed out that there has been no activity related to the agreement in years, and suggested that they are keeping it for a time when relations between Estonia and Russia improve again.

The agreement is seen as a major factor in making the Center Party attractive to Russian-speaking voters. How far giving up such a connection to Russia affects election results remains to be seen.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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