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Ukrainian ally Kallas fights for re-election in Estonia


Estonia, which supplies Ukraine with more weapons than any other country relative to its economic power, is holding general elections on Sunday that will determine whether it can maintain that high level of support.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, 45, has emerged over the past war year as one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters in Europe. She is seeking a second term, her reputation bolstered by her international calls to impose sanctions on Moscow.

A Baltic country of 1.3 million people bordered to the east by Russia, Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took a distinctly Western path by joining NATO and the European Union .

Polls indicate that Kallas’ centre-right Reform Party is likely to win more votes than any other party. His main challenger is Martin Helme, leader of the nationalist EKRE party who blames Kallas for the country’s inflation rate of 18.6% – one of the highest in the EU – and accuses him of undermining the government’s own defenses. Estonia by giving arms to Ukraine.

Kallas maintains that it is in his country’s direct interest to help Kyiv.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has raised fears in Tallinn that a Russian victory could encourage Moscow to shift its attention to other countries it controlled during the Soviet era, including the Baltics, the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, now all members of NATO.

“We are facing (parliamentary) elections at a very difficult time,” Kallas told party officials in a recent speech. “The war (in Ukraine) continues and it leaves its mark on all of Europe, even on the whole world. I don’t know when the war will end… but I know it won’t end with a victory for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.

She said Russia would “never” become a reliable partner again, adding that Estonians “have to get used to the idea that we live in the neighborhood of a pariah terrorist state and that we must not lose our vigilance a single moment”.

Kallas argues that Estonia’s defenses remain strong because the United States and other NATO allies have provided top-notch weapons like the HIMARS rocket system to make up for the older hardware being donated. ‘Ukraine.

In addition to arms, Estonia provides Kyiv with substantial humanitarian aid and has taken in more than 60,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Populist EKRE, which largely operates on an anti-EU and anti-immigration platform, has called for a cap on the number of refugees from Ukraine, saying Estonia cannot cope with so many people .

Kallas, in office since 2021, is part of a generation of young women who have risen to the top of international politics in recent years and become strong voices for Ukraine.

Along with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Kallas strongly condemned Russian atrocities in Ukraine and called on the Western world not to succumb to nuclear threats from the Kremlin.

Five parties are currently represented in Estonia’s 101-seat legislature. Many Estonians have already voted electronically, voting from their computer.

Kallas’s Reform Party leads the current three-party coalition government with the small conservative Fatherland Party and the Social Democrats. Polls indicate that the EKRE – which is strong in rural areas – would likely take second place on Sunday, followed by the Center Party which is traditionally favored by Estonia’s large ethnic Russian minority.

Still, if Kallas’ coalition partners do poorly on Sunday, his opponents could still find themselves in a strong position to form a government.

Political analyst Tonis Saarts says Kallas had a rocky start as prime minister due to feuds with other parties, but believes his image has been boosted domestically by his strong statements on the international stage in favor from Ukraine.

“It made Kallas much stronger and also increased her authority in domestic politics,” said Saarts, an associate professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University.

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