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Cablegate: Estonia: New Defense Committee Chair Discusses

VZCZCXRO8902
RR RUEHIK RUEHPOD RUEHYG
DE RUEHTL #0547/01 2360830
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240830Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY TALLINN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0100
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

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SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
FOR EUR/NB -- KATHERINE GARRY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL MOPS MARR EN
SUBJECT: ESTONIA: NEW DEFENSE COMMITTEE CHAIR DISCUSSES
IRAQ AND RUSSIA

REF: TALLINN 472

1. (SBU) Summary. On August 15, the Ambassador hosted a
luncheon for Mati Raidma, Member of Parliament (MP) and new
Chairman of the National Defense Committee (NDC). The two
discussed Parliament's upcoming votes to renew the Estonian
Defense Forces (EDF) mission mandates for Iraq,
Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the European Union (EU) Nordic
Battle Group (NBG). Raidma reaffirmed the trends we have
seen in Parliament: support for Afghanistan, Kosovo, and
the EU NBG and division over Iraq. Raidma was cautiously
optimistic over the Iraq vote. He predicted that it would
be highly politicized, and could be complicated by military
resource strains due to Estonia's commitment to the EU NBG.
The Ambassador and Raidma also discussed Estonia's
relations with Russia, and Moscow's success in sowing
division within the EU, frustrating Estonian efforts to
push for a common EU voice when dealing with Moscow. End
Summary.

Will Estonia Stay the Course in Iraq?
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) When Parliament reconvenes in the second week of
September, all four of Estonia's foreign missions (e.g.,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and EU NBG) will need to be
renewed (each finishes at the end of 2007). Ministry of
Defense (MOD) interlocutors have informed us that all four
bills are ready to submit to the Government of Estonia
(GOE) for Parliament's ratification in the autumn.
Raidma's NDC will have the lead in holding debates and
bringing the bills to the general parliamentary assembly.
Like many other MPs and GOE officials we have spoken to,
Raidma did not foresee any difficulty renewing the
Afghanistan, Kosovo, and EU NBG missions. However, he
predicted a contentious debate over Iraq. Raidma told us
discretely that the GOE has the votes in his committee and
in the general assembly to pass an Iraq mission extension.
However, the Iraq vote still concerns him for two reasons.

3. (SBU) First, the Center Party, the largest opposition
party in Parliament, is planning to heavily politicize this
issue. Ever since the April/May incidents surrounding the
removal of the WWII-era Bronze Soldier monument, the Center
Party has seen its popularity decline dramatically. Raidma
opined that Center is desperate for any political traction
with the voters -- and the Iraq mission, widely unpopular
with the Estonian public, gives it that opportunity. As
there are no other controversial bills on the horizon,
Raidma predicted that Center would hammer the GOE on Iraq
for the foreseeable future to rehabilitate its sinking
popularity. Raidma noted further that the Center Party
will undoubtedly capitalize on the ongoing U.S. debate over
troop withdrawals from Iraq. (Note. Reftel noted our
discussions with other MPs from other parties which have
supported Raidma's analysis. End Note.)

4. (SBU) Secondly, Raidma was concerned about the potential
pitfalls of the EU NBG, a rapid-reaction force that
Brussels would send to global hot-spots. Estonia has
seconded up to 60 troops to participate in the EU NGB.
Christian Liflander, MOD Director for Policy Planning, told
us that the French are lobbying very hard that the EU NBG
be sent to central Africa (e.g., Darfur) for peace-support
operations. With the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) already
straining to meet its current operational commitments, an
ambitious EU NBG mission to a military hotspot could be the
straw that breaks the camel's back. With a small number of
professional soldiers, the EDF has heavily relied on their
best-trained troops, the "Scouts Battalion," for
Afghanistan and Iraq. Using the Scouts Battalion for an
additional operation does not seem possible and sending
Estonian reservists and/or national guardsmen with limited
training into a volatile environment would be a dangerous
proposition. Raidma explained: "If the Battle Group does
go to Africa, MPs may decide to vote against the Iraq
mission to shift our resources to the Battle Group."
(Note. MOD interlocutors have also expressed to us their
concerns that an ambitious EU NBG mission may overwhelm EDF
resources. End Note.)

Russia is a Concern for Everyone
--------------------------------

5. (SBU) In Raidma's opinion, Estonia's recent crisis with
Russia is only the extreme version of a disturbing trend
emanating from Moscow. He is disturbed by the Russian
revisionist attitude towards history, and recent unfounded
accusations of fascism used to deflect any external

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criticism against the Government of Russia (GOR). Raidma
shared with us an anecdote to illustrate. On a recent trip
to NATO Headquarters, he met with a Russian Duma delegation
also visiting NATO. Raidma witnessed Duma delegates
accusing NATO officials of being untrustworthy "for not
keeping their promises." They cited NATO membership for
the Balts as an example of NATO's "lies to Russia" as NATO
had "guaranteed this would not happen." The Duma
delegation's tone disturbed Raidma much more than the
substance of their accusations.

6. (SBU) Unfortunately, in Raidma's opinion, Russia's
tactics to sow division within the EU have proven very
effective. "What Europe needs is a common voice when
dealing with Russia," Raidma complained, "but we are not
even close to achieving this." The EU's temerity in
standing up to Russia has only encouraged Moscow to become
more aggressive in its behavior. For this reason, he
assured us that the GOE, Parliament, and the Estonian
public continue to see NATO as the foundation of Estonian
and European security.

7. (SBU) Comment. Even with Raidma's assurances that the
GOE has the votes to pass the Iraq bill, post will monitor
closely any possible political skirmishes over Iraq, and
possible impact on the EDF of personnel shortages arising
from competing missions like the EU NBG.

PHILLIPS

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