Estonian government collapses as prime minister hits out at coalition partner

Estonia’s government collapsed after the Baltic country’s prime minister launched a blistering attack on her coalition partners, accusing them of working against the nation’s values and failing to protect its independence in the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the request of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, the president, Alar Karis, on Friday dismissed all seven ministers from the Centre party, which used to have formal ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

“The security situation in Europe does not give me any opportunity to continue co-operating with the Centre party, which is unable to put Estonia’s interests above those of the party,” said Kallas, adding that Centre was “actively working against Estonia’s core values”.

The extraordinary collapse of Estonia’s government comes as improving security for the three Baltic countries becomes a priority for Nato ahead of a crucial summit of the military alliance at the end of this month in Madrid.

Kallas has become one of the most vocal western figures in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing that Europe and the US must do more to defeat Moscow both militarily and through sanctions. Estonia has given more military support to Ukraine per capita than any other country.

The immediate cause of Kallas’s anger was Centre’s opposition, alongside the far-right populists of Ekre, to a government pre-school education bill. But some believe there are other, underlying reasons for the long-running tensions between Kallas’s liberal Reform party and Centre.

“Many Estonians, including myself, fear that political players sharing the Kremlin’s interests are attempting to take over the Estonian government,” Rein Raud, the Estonian author, wrote on Twitter this week, arguing that Centre and Ekre were trying to tone down Tallinn’s response on Ukraine.

Centre, which cancelled its longstanding co-operation with United Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, shocked the Estonian establishment by forming a government with Ekre and another party in 2019 rather than Reform, which won the most votes.

Ekre’s inclusion threatened Estonia’s liberal image after the nationalists’ leaders insulted everybody from Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin and US president Joe Biden to gays and immigrants.

Mart Helme, the former Ekre leader and ex-interior minister, sparked outrage in April by saying that Ukrainian refugees would bring HIV with them because many would become involved in prostitution in Ukraine.

Jüri Ratas, Centre’s leader and former prime minister, said Kallas should have resigned as head of government and refused to deny speculation that he could try to resurrect the former coalition with Ekre.

Kallas said on Friday: “Unfortunately, it turned out that there are two parties in the parliament that just cannot shape up, even in the current situation, and make sure our independence and constitutional values are protected.”

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