Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Why Estonia Election Results Are a Blow to Putin

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, long one of Europe’s most avowedly Russo-skeptic leaders, has secured another term in office after her center-right Reform Party topped the polls in Sunday’s general election.

The Associated Press reported Monday that, with 99 percent of the ballots counted, Kallas’ party had taken 31.4 percent of the vote, with the far-right EKRE party a distant second with 16.1 percent, and the Center Party—which traditionally receives strong support from Estonia’s ethnic Russian minority—on 15 percent. Voter turnout was 63.7 percent, similar to the last contest.

Kallas will now take a commanding position in subsequent negotiations to form a governing coalition, with her new government expected to continue its strong support for Ukraine as it resists Russia’s ongoing invasion.

Estonia has been among the leading political, humanitarian and military backers for Kyiv over the past year, repeatedly pushing its NATO and European Union allies to deepen assistance for Ukraine while escalating the political isolation and economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.

“It’s very good news for everybody: for Ukraine, for our allies,” Marko Mihkelson, a member of Kallas’ party who was re-elected for the sixth time in Sunday’s vote, told Newsweek of the results shortly after Reform Party chiefs met to discuss their success.

“Bad news for Russia. It’s going to be an even more active and firm position because of the mandate that Kaja, the party, and the possible new coalition gained yesterday,” Mihkelson said.

The results mean Reform will take 37 seats in the parliament—known as the Riigikogu—meaning the 45-year-old prime minister needs another 14 from junior partners to command a majority in the 101-seat body.

Kallas has said she will not work with EKRE because of ideological differences. The prime minister is expected to approach the Center Party—which has previously given Kallas support in a coalition—the small conservative Fatherland party, the Social Democrats, and potentially the new, liberal centrist Eesti 200 party, which is set to enter parliament for the first time.

Estonia’s electoral committee will now validate the results, which will take around four weeks. By then, Kallas will hope to already have a coalition deal in place and be ready to accept President Alar Karis’ invitation to form a new government. Mihklelson told Newsweek the party hopes to announce its intentions on who to partner with by Tuesday.

“This result, which is not final yet, will give us a strong mandate to put together a good government,” Kallas told colleagues and supporters in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

“I think that with such a strong mandate, the [aid to Ukraine] will not change because other parties, except EKRE and maybe Center, have chosen the same line,” she said.

Kallas’ government is already spending close to 3 percent of Estonia’s GDP on defense, a historic high for the country and significantly above the 2 percent of GDP military spending target agreed by NATO member states.

Tallinn has given an equivalent of 1 percent of its GDP in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine; more than any other nation by proportion of GDP. This includes Estonia’s entire arsenal of 155 mm howitzers.

The prime minister is now calling on EU nations to collectively expand 155 mm shell production to feed Ukrainian guns and help Kyiv compete in the artillery duels that have so often dominated battlefields in Ukraine.

The election result will be welcome in Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government is working hard to stave off any hint of Western fatigue. With no end to the fighting in sight, there are rumblings that some influential NATO members may look to nudge Kyiv towards renewed peace efforts with Moscow, though there appears little indication that either side is ready to talk.

“To us the victory of her party is a very positive sign, because it’s a signal that Estonian society is firmly on the side of Ukraine and is in favor of continuing to support Ukraine,” Oleksandr Merezhko—a member of Ukraine’s parliament representing Zelensky’s servant of the People party—told Newsweek.

“It also means that there is no ‘fatigue’ in the West regarding Ukraine,” said Merezhko, who also chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

“In terms of military budget percentage, Estonia is one of our biggest supporters and it should be a role model for many other EU countries,” he said. “I often say, ‘be like Estonia!'”

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry to request comment.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, long one of Europe’s most avowedly Russo-skeptic leaders, has secured another term in office after her center-right Reform Party topped the polls in Sunday’s general election.

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