Saskaņa quietly ditches Putin party agreement

In a significant development October 9, Riga mayor and Saskaņa (Harmony) party leader Nils Ušakovs said his party was cancelling its long-time cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

 

Saskaņa has come under criticism ever since it signed a cooperation agreement in 2009, but in the past had defended the move, saying it represented a chance of dialogue with the Kremlin and that it generally concerned relatively uncontroversial matters such as cooperation on staging cultural events.

However, speaking on LTV October 9, Ušakovs signalled a major change of policy while attempting to downplay the importance of the move.

The agreement had lapsed when Saskana joined the EU-level alliance of parties known as the Party of European Socialists as "traditionally, parties that are in this group base their cooperation with parties in third countries in a centralized manner... so our agreement with United Russia which lapsed in 2016 has lost its applicability," Ušakovs said.

"We informed the party board, we informed the parliamentary and council groups and also our party members about it," he said, describing the move as "absolutely logical".

Pragmatic cooperation with Russia remained important, he explained, while maintaining that the priority was cooperation with allied parties in countries such as Sweden and Germany.

"We are members of the family of European social democrats," he said.

"Our position has not changed. For both Latvia and the European Union establishing good relations with Russia is beneficial," he insisted.

Commenting on the news, political scientist Filips Rajevskis said the dropping of the agreement with United Russia was likely an attempt to increase Saskana's appeal ahead of parliamentary elections in a year's time.

Until now, the Putin agreement has been one of the formal reasons why a number of political forces represented in parliament have refused to cooperate with Saskanas and it invariably crops up early in any election debate involving Ušakovs.

With that now off the table, Saskana will be able to concentrate on efforts to convince voters it is a real social democratic party, even if on issues such as family values and sexual minorities its voting patterns in Saeima have little in common with mainstream European social democrats. 

Nevertheless, ahead of this year's municipal elections which saw Saskana (and its allied non-social democrat party Honor To Serve Riga) retain power, Ušakovs managed to co-opt endorsements from a wide swathe of EU social democrat parties (below).

The mayor also took the opportunity to defend the payment of bonuses related to road renovations works that have come under heavy public criticism.

"If people have done a good job and we want them to do an even better job next year, they must be motivated," he said.

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