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 the most outspoken European opponents of Russia’s war on Ukraine won backing for a new coalition government.

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

Kallas should be able to form a new government after the conservative Pro Patria party decided on Saturday to enter into coalition talks with her liberal Reform party and the Social Democrats.

“The three parties have a strong common ground to create a government that will bring Estonia through the crises, is pro-Estonian, strengthens our security and offers people a sense of economic security,” Kallas wrote on Facebook.

Long-simmering tensions between Reform and its former coalition partner Centre, which had links with Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s political party until March, broke out at the start of June as Kallas asked the president to fire all of Centre’s ministers.

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

Centre tried to woo Pro Patria this week by offering to resurrect the coalition that governed Estonia from 2019 until 2021 with far-right Ekre.

Ekre politicians have caused outrage by insulting everyone from US president Joe Biden and Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin to gays 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 suspected the influence of the Kremlin in the putative Centre-Ekre alliance, fearing it could dilute Estonia’s harsh criticism of Russia and strong support of Ukraine.

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

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

Estonia wants to persuade its Nato allies to substantially increase their troop presence in the country and in fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania at a summit of the defence alliance in Madrid at the end of this month.

But security is far from the only issue facing the government. Estonia has the highest inflation rate in the eurozone, at over 20 per cent in May. The previous coalition also ran into difficulties over education and family benefits.

Kallas, who struggled to assert herself domestically and suffered in the polls before Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, has seen her popularity jump since then. Her sharp criticism of Putin has gained her a strong international following.

Helir-Valdor Seeder, Pro Patria leader, said he still thought Kallas should have resigned as prime minister as her previous coalition had collapsed.

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

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