Estonian PM set to form new coalition after conservative party joins talks

Kaja Kallas is set to survive as Estonia’s prime minister after one of Europe’s most vocal opponents of Russia’s war on Ukraine won the backing of a new coalition government.

Estonia has spent more than a week in a political crisis as it faces the growing security challenge from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kallas is expected to be able to form a new government after the conservative Pro Patria party decided on Saturday to start coalition talks with his reformed Liberal Party and the Social Democrats.

“All three parties have strong common ground to create a government that will pull Estonia out of crisis, is pro-Estonian, strengthens our security and provides people with a sense of economic security,” Kallas wrote on Facebook.

Long-running tensions between the reformists and his former coalition partner the Centre, which had ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political party until March, erupted in early June when Kallas called on the president to fire all central ministers.

She accused the Centre, which draws much of its support from Estonia’s large Russian-speaking population, of working against the nation’s values ​​and failing to protect its independence.

The center attempted to woo Pro Patria this week by offering to resurrect the coalition that ruled Estonia from 2019 to 2021 along with far-right Ekre.

Ekre politicians have caused outrage by insulting everyone from US President Joe Biden and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin to gay people and immigrants. Its former leader, Mart Helme, said in April that Ukrainian refugees would bring HIV to Estonia, as many would become involved in prostitution.

Some observers have suspected Kremlin influence in the putative Center-Ekre alliance, fearing it could dilute Estonia’s harsh criticism of Russia and strong support for Ukraine.

Mart Laar, a former Pro Patria prime minister, said last week that a Centre-Ekre government “stands out [as] rather pro-Russian, to put it mildly”.

Kallas said on Saturday she hoped the three parties could start coalition talks “quickly” so that a new government could be formed, ending her current status at the helm of a minority administration.

Estonia wants to persuade its NATO allies to dramatically increase their military presence in the country and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania at a defense alliance summit in Madrid at the end of this month.

But security is far from the only problem facing the government. Estonia has the highest inflation rate in the euro zone, at over 20% in May. The previous coalition also faced difficulties with education and family allowances.

Kallas, who struggled to assert himself nationally and suffered in the polls before Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, has seen his popularity surge since then. His acerbic criticism of Putin has earned him a strong international following.

Helir-Valdor Seeder, leader of Pro Patria, said he still believed Kallas should have resigned as prime minister because his previous coalition had collapsed.

“My belief is that the constitution must be respected. If a coalition falls, the government must resign,” he said.